Live reviews from Record Collector

Live reviews published in Record Collector 2004 0nwards (A small selection, and not necessarily in the right order!)

These are the acts I’ve reviewed in RC since 2004:

Athlete, K Festival, Jersey Live Festival, Mark Lanegan with Duke Spirit, Mercury Rev, Subways, Franz Ferdinand, The Kills, Deus, Spirit Of Austin Festival, The Dears, Scarlet Soho, Jon Amor, KT Tunstall, The Bravery, Willy Mason, Kathleen Edwards, Rufus Wainwright, Eels, The Cribs, Joe Jackson and Todd Rundgren, The Hollies, John Parish, Laura Veirs, Sons and Daughters, Athlete (again), South By Southwest Festival 2006, Cerys Matthews, Richard Thompson, End of The Road Festival 2006, Dear Mr Fantasy (Jim Capaldi tribute), Charlotte Hatherley, Richmond Fontaine, Spencer Davis Group, The Klaxons, South By Southwest Festival 2007, Laura Veirs (again), Steve Winwood, Isle of Wight Festival 2007, The SAS Band, End Of The Road Festival 2007, Richard Thompson, Mercury Rev (again), Leonard Cohen, PJ Harvey and John Parish, Juliette Lewis, Bad Company, Jason Lytle, Ash, Chuck Prophet, End Of The Road Festival 2010, South By Southwest Festival 2010, Midlake, Eastleigh Music Festival 2010, Shearwater, End of the Road Festival 2011, Spanish Bombs, the Low anthem, South by southwest Festival 2011, South by southwest Festival 2012, End of the Road Festival 2012, Ray Davies, South By Southwest Festival 2013, The Hoax, Wickham Festival 2013, End of the Road Festival 2013, Caravan, Truck Festival 2014, Eels (again), Wickham Festival 2014, End of the Road Festival 2014, South By Southwest Festival 2015, Jesse Malin, Kilkenny Roots 2015, Camel, Wickham Festival 2015, End of the Road Festival 2015, Graham Parker and The Rumour, Joe Jackson, Americana Music Association Awards 2016, Kilkenny Roots 2016, South By Southwest Festival 2016, The Blockheads, Wilderness Festival 2016, The Zombies, End Of The Road Festival 2016, Richmond Fontaine (again), Chuck Prophet And The Mission Express, Alejandro Escovedo, Wickham Festival 2017, End Of The Road Festival 2017, Take Root Festival 2017, Static Roots Festival 2017, The Boys, Wickham Festival 2018, Tropical Heatwave Cruise, Robyn Hitchcock, South by southwest festival 2018, Gruff Rhys, the Hollies, Tom Robinson Band, The Manfreds, Americanafest 2018, End of the Road Festival 2018, The Long Ryders, Joe Jackson (again), South By Southwest Festival 2019, Wickham Festival 2019, Rhythmtree Festival 2019, End of the Road Festival 2019, Eels (again).

This Is The Kit

Joiners Arms, Southampton

27 / 1 / 2019

View: On tipotoes

It is typical of this most understated of bands that they should support Independent Venues Week with a series of gigs in tiny venues, before ending the week with their biggest-ever show at a sold-out Roundhouse. So they returned to the Joiners as a kind of warm-up, featuring a few forgotten lyrics and fluffed starts that merely endeared them even more to this home audience. It was five months since their last gig and even more for guitarist Neil Smith, finally back from injury. Featuring material largely from their last two albums, Bashed Up and Moonshine Freeze (the title track is the nearest they get to being funky), writer and front person Kate Stables is as un-rock’n’roll as you can get, explaining her fairytale lyrics about crows, tortoises and seals as she alternates song-by song between spidery banjo and untreated semi-acoustic. Her voice, to the fore in every song, is as innocent and pure as any you will ever hear, the gorgeous Bulletproof being a fine example. This tour features an unconventional mini-horn section that adds an almost Zappaesque feel to proceedings.  A valedictory squall of a guitar wigout from the normally restrained Smith emphasises the uniqueness of this beautiful band.

Josh T Pearson

St John’s at Bethnal Green


View: Centre pew

Alone with an electric guitar and a bunch of pedals (as was the headliner), Lebanese singer Nadine Khouri opened the show with a suitably spiritual set of understated songs and precise playing, the standout being her signature “Broken Star”. Josh T Pearson, quickly abandoning both Stetson and leather jacket, launched into a typically self-depracating series of mildly un-PC jokes before an hour’s worth of his unique whisper-to-operatic-baritone confessionals. The fact that they are all at the same pace, and have the same spidery guitar technique, structure and register matters not a jot, because this is one of the most gripping live performers you will ever experience. Much of the lyrical content, focussing on failure in love, is almost unbearably personal. He only managed half of the new song You’re The Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Me, while Still Born To Rock had the audience in an emotional turmoil. There’s a hint of Rufus Wainwright in the reedy delivery and non-rock character of Pearson’s songs, even the ironic lyrics (I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s As If You Never Left), but as a performer, his unique, unstudied charisma is currently without peer.

The Manfreds / Georgie Fame

Salisbury City Hall

November 7, 2018

View: Elevated

On paper, this was a dream pairing; in practice, it didn’t quite work, mainly because there wasn’t a Hammond in sight and Georgie Fame was playing Yeh Yeh on a synthetic-sounding digital keyboard set on piano mode. That couldn’t be right, and it wasn’t. Neither was playing random songs like Wide Eyed and Legless, which didn’t suit his voice at all. Mike D’Abo has every right to sing his compositions Handbags And Gladrags and Build Me Up Buttercup, which he did, in showbiz style. The remaining Manfreds (Mike Hugg, ex-drums, now keys), Tom McGuinness (lead guitar) and Paul Jones, supreme harmonica maestro and humble enough to share the limelight, played workmanlike versions of the hits, most effectively when there was a blues hint (Smokestack Lightning, The One In The Middle). Surprisingly, the most rousing moment of the set came when a stick-thin McGuinness played When I’m Dead And Gone. Three keyboard players and three lead vocalists were a little too unwieldy and the three weeks of hard touring showed. Still, it’s great that they have the energy and the sold-out crowd adored the efficient trip down memory lane.

Tom Robinson Band

The 1865, Southampton

20 October 2018

View: Footsore

The current version of TRB presented the whole of Robinson’s debut Album Power In The Darkness and trundled into Southampton’s cosiest venue during one of the tensest political periods since the songs were first written. The rapt and respectful audience was transported back forty years. The only things changed in the songs were some of the dated references (Mary Whitehouse is replaced by Boris Johnson) but the sound was reproduced faithfully, with tribute paid generously to the original members. Only one song hadn’t been played live by the first band (Man You Never Saw was “too fast”) but now, as an admittedly slightly breathless 68-year-old, Tom can manage it, with the help of frenzied drumming from Faithless’s Andy Treacey and guitarist Adam Phillips, who had been studying the original blues-rock tones of Danny Kustow. As the 1978 album actually contains few TRB hits, there was of course a lengthy encore including 2468 Motorway and the (deserved) freak hit War Baby. Personally, I missed my favourite, Atmospherics, but who’d have thought we’d still be standing in a friendly music dive bellowing “Martin” in 2018? It was pretty life-affirming.

End Of The Road Festival

Blandford, Dorset

30 / 8 – 2 / 9

View: Scrumpyfied

The depth of the EOTR bill means that the hidden gems are at least as exciting as the headliners. While the shows by St Vincent and Vampire Weekend were spectacular, they lacked the humanity of Hiss Golden Messenger, whose JJ Cale style funk and festival anthem Everybody Needs Somebody nearly stole the day. Even that couldn’t challenge the sheer bonkers brilliance and courage of Low Anthem, whose set included a suite of songs about plankton – really. A small but rapt crowd enjoyed Jeff Twedy’s atmospheric solo versions of Wilco classics like Impossible Germany. Other discoveries included Caroline Spence, channeling the spirit of Kathleen Edwards, and a major breakthrough set from Nashville’s Erin Rae. Secret shows deep in the woods featured the likes of Gruff Rhys and the extraordinary Josh T Pearson, going off piste and having a highly entertaining musical midlife crisis. Elsewhere, vintage artists like a rejuvenated Posies vied with the musically sublime Jonathan Wilson to make sure that, as ever, End Of The Road had something for everyone.

John Murry

Bush Hall, London


View: Comfy

John Murry and his band Dark Matter’s show benefited the from the intimacy of what is surely London’s most atmospheric venue outside the Union Chapel. Murry was onstage during the support, duetting with Peter Bruntnell on the lovely Handful Of Stars. Starting the set dressed in a soon-abandoned flat cap, Murry had the audience transfixed as he revisited tracks from his extraordinary Graceless Age album. The music is squally rock, not the fey “Americana” with which he has been lazily tagged and Murry’s stage presence defies description, wavering between super rockstar confidence, nervous diffidence, wry humour, baffled innocence and twitchy edginess. He also plays a mean Telecaster, entwined with the potent lead guitar of Sean Coleman. But in the end, it’s all about the songs and the story of salvation from drug addiction. While the album is lushly produced, beautiful songs like California and Southern Sky take on harsh new dimensions, with the tour de force Little Colored Balloons being one of the world’s great live music experiences. Murry gives it absolutely everything every night and the audience simply melts. How does he do it?

John Murry

The Lexington, London


View: Front row

Islington was sweltering and it wasn’t just the heatwave that was responsible. John Murry was on fire. This occasionally unpredictable artist was clearly determined that his London show was going to go down as one of his best ever, as he commanded the stage, surrounded by his regular band. Tali Trow flitted from one instrument to the other, while Stephen Barlow on pedal steel plucked out the signature melodies in a beautifully clear sound mix.  In fine voice throughout, Murry is generous in the room he gives his musicians, with much of the set featuring support artist Benjamin Folke Thomas on second guitar, something which lent an extra edge of excitement to an already charged atmosphere. Murry on electric guitar is quite thrilling; the only comparisons to his “wrong-but-so-right” lead playing being Neil Young or perhaps Stephen Malkmus. The set was stuffed with familiar tunes like The Wrong Man and Southern Sky and ended in a daring way with a new song, I Refuse To Believe. A three-song encore comprised Oscar Wilde, Greg Dulli’s What Jail Is Like and Little Colored Balloons and they returned yet again for a raging version of Townes Van Zandt’s Waiting Around To Die.

Gruff Rhys

Railway Inn, Winchester


View: Squashed

Few things match the excitement of a “big band in a small venue”. Especially if you’re a child like me and start hyperventilating on discovering that the guy inches away from you on stage is the Flaming Lips’ drummer. This warm-up was especially bold, as Gruff and band had decided to confront the rammed audience with a complete run through of his new album Babelsberg . This turned out not to be a problem because not only are all the songs (notably Frontier Man) so accessible as to feel already familiar, but also because Gruff entertainingly presented it with comments on what I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue would call the “laser display board” (a piece of cardboard on a stick). Thus the beginnings and ends of Sides One and Two were announced, along with exhortations such as  “Ripple Of Applause” (we were requested to show recognition of the beginnings of songs we hadn’t heard before) and “Tumultuous Applause” (to generate the planned encore). All this bookended a good-humoured and virtuoso performance from a full band featuring said brilliant Lips’ drummer Kliph Scurlock in a leading role, celebrating the concurrent birthdays of both Prince and Tom Jones. In his honour, we were then treated to a number of classic Rhys tracks in Welsh, including three from Yr Atal Genhedlaeth. Rare merch was in short supply though, as, frustratingly, the new record wasn’t out until the next day. So we have to search elsewhere for the limited edition deluxe 12” x 24” holographicpanoramic vinyl package (really).Maybe that’s the only downside of a warm-up gig.

Robyn Hitchcock

The Brook, Southampton


View: From the Royal Box

This was something of a homecoming show, as Robyn grew up in Winchester and (although now resident in Nashville) spent much of the eighties on the Isle Of Wight. Hampshire references abounded as he graced the Brook’s precipitous stage in his trademark polka dots. One can only assume he either travels with a box of them or has very high dry cleaning bills. To celebrate the occasion, he delved deep into his enormous catalogue for gems such as N.Y Doll, a highly moving 2006 tribute to Dolls’ bassist Arthur Kane, and 1988’s Balloon Man. A tribute to a childhood sweetheart, Sally Was A Legend, first appeared on Jewels For Sophia in 1999. Naturally, the classic Winchester appeared early on in the set, here in a slightly speeded-up version, the audience nodding in recognition of all the local references. This continued with the beautiful I Often Dream  Of Trains, a sentimental treat for an audience of mainly gentlemen of a certain age. He is a truly unique artist, with his sometimes overlooked acoustic guitar skills, his incomparable stream-of-consciousness monologues and his super-intelligent lyrics. As his voice began to give out at the end of a long tour, partner Emma Swift joined him for a charming encore rendition of the Everlys’ Let It Be Me.

The Hollies

Anvil, Basingstoke


View: Oblique

This Hollies format has been together so long that it’s a well-oiled machine, but it doesn’t mean they are merely going through the motions. Like the Stones, it’s unlikely that they are doing it for the money, so it must be because they still enjoy it, as comes across in the convivial onstage atmosphere, including a hilarious tale of Tony Hicks getting lost in the adjacent shopping centre (as did I). Vocalist Peter Howarth, despite the hint of cabaret in the presentation, really has developed into a superb Allan Clarke replacement and the harmonies are fully intact. Not only does Steve Lauri provide the Nash-isms, he also is a great guitar foil for Tony Hicks, which Nash never was. This was demonstrated by spectacular Lynryd Skynryd guitar battle at the end of Look Through Any Window, which had the (regrettably aged) audience quaking. Hit after hit tumbled out, including the less familiar tunes: Yes I Will, I Can’t Let Go and King Midas In Reverse. There was even a new song, a power ballad called Weakness. The band was sprightly, the venue comfy and the sound great. You couldn’t ask for more.

Tropical Heatwave Cruise

Florida – Mexico

22 – 26.2.18

View: On the ocean wave

“This idea incorporates two of the things I hate most – boats and people” was a wry observation from Sarah Borges that chimed with certain passengers (me) who would have rather died than participate in a cruise. But before long, Sarah and the Broken Singles were hurling themselves round the stage of the Colony Club with nautical abandon. The Tampa Radio Station WNMF had put together a fantastically eclectic bill including funk-rappers Trae Pierce and the T-Stones (he’s worked with both Prince and James Brown). As they collapsed in a heap after their incredible rap-metal version of Whole Lotta Love, the earth truly moved – or at least the ocean did. Poles away musically but equally intriguing were Austin youngsters Bright Light Social Hour, who somehow managed to be prog-blues-electro-poppers. The rest of the acts encompassed a spectrum from country rock to grunge blues which the over-nourished audience (jeez, there was a lot of food) greeted with universal appreciation. Further standouts were the extraordinary Rev Billy C. Wirtz (a cross between Jerry Lee Lewis and Billy Connolly) and San Franciscan Poet Laureate Chuck Prophet with his super-slick Mission Express. Ahoy there, me hearties.

The Boys

Talking Heads, Southampton


View: Among a Pompey gang

A triumvirate of spirited power pop / punk veterans conspired to kick out the new year cobwebs with panache, power, humour and inspiration. Portsmouth’s Glorias were a man down but that didn’t hinder them from hurtling through their new album Life’ll Get Ya, with bassist Nish spending as much time bouncing round in the audience as on stage. Follow that … well, The Vultz could, whacking out three-minuters including a wild cover of the Box Tops’ The Letter. Even their “slow song” was just as fast as the others. There was a healthy and impressively eclectic roomful by the time the six-piece version of The Boys hit the stage, looking and sounding stylish and musically unimpeachable. Honest John Plain caused amusement as he kept peering over his shades in order to read the set list, as guitarist Chips Kisbyewhispered the key to each song in his ear. It was a comprehensive twenty-song set, directed from centre stage by bassist Kent Norberg, a comparative youngster at fifty-two, with lead vocals alternating between him, Plain, Casino Steel and an imperious Matt Dangerfield. It was hard to pick standouts from a uniformly exciting and gripping set, but 1976 was an absolute stormer and Steel brought things to a raging climax with Sick On You. They may look a bit roadworn, but man, can they still deliver.

This Is The Kit

Joiners, Southampton


View: Squashed

It’s not a bad pitch for a tour support slot: We do ethereal songs on electric guitar and harp – oh, and by the way, we can act as a brass section for the main band, using sax and flugel horn. Such are the talents of Emma Gatrill and Marcus Hamblett that they made for perfect openers, received in rapt appreciation by this (almost) home town audience for This Is The Kit, makers of one of RC’s Albums Of 2017. The headliners opened, as ever, with a solo Kate Stables and her banjo playing Easy On The Thieves, the band (including long-time bassist Rozi Leyden) gradually joining in on Bullet Proof. The slow build up of the set from acoustic folk to full-on dance power is one of This Is The Kit’s cleverest attributes, all of it appearing to be almost casual and the informal between-song banter making the venue seem like your front room. One huge attribute is the skill of guitarist Neil Smith who uses subtle distortion effects to add a dimension of musical excitement best exemplified in a spectacular wig-out on Earthquake. Gripping and highly individual lyrics from Kate kept the silent audience’s attention in an hour-long set that featured her delightfully unaffected voice on very song, including a charming encore of Bashed Out. It warmed the cockles on a very cold night in Southampton’s back streets.

End Of The Road Festival

Blandford, Dorset

31 August – 3 September

View: Sun-kissed

Variety was the spice of a largely sun-drenched End Of The Road, where Roots vied with Electronica and old hands like Slowdive and The Jesus And Mary Chain battled with upstarts like Alvvays and Mac DeMarco. Of the many up-and-comers, Lemon Twigs are a hideous sub-Queen mess and were taught a few things about economy of style by Car Seat Headrest, Margaret Glaspy and a hard-edged Daniel Romano, all flying the flag for no-nonsense guitar-driven rock, as were the more established but hugely entertaining Band Of Horses.  Standout of the many acoustic troubadours was John Moreland and all were treated to a masterclass in picking by virtuoso veteran Michael Chapman, from whom Ryley Walker had learnt (and developed) a lot. All credit also to Father John Misty. At heart, he’s an old-fashioned songsmith with a good feel for a melody and a spot of drama. His first festival headlining spot worked out really well, but nothing could complete with Lucinda Williams. The no-frills exploration of her career catalogue was enhanced by her sensational guitarist Stuart Mathis, who did the work of three.

Take Root Festival

Groningen, Neterlands


View: Myriad

Spread over five rooms of a city centre arts complex, Take Root packs a lot of music into a small time window by means of super, seamless efficiency. Opening up, Tift Merritt enjoyed throwing Tori Amos shapes at the grand piano, while Cactus Blossoms are a modern day Everly Brothers with captivating harmonies. Hurray For The Riff Raff challenged the audience’s country sensibilities and triumphed, while Margo Price’s huge lungs were enhanced by a handy theramin – surely another country music first. A charming solo Andrew Combs offered a welcome relief from all the twanging electric guitars and entranced the nomadic audience with his new “tree-hugging” song called Dirty Rain. As things cranked up to a climax, Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express set the bar almost impossibly high for Jason Isbell and his crack sessioners to rise above. They succeeded, with a panoramic 90-minute set, but it was a close thing.

Hurray For The Rif Raff

Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms


View: Back wall

The transition from rootsy Treme-style folk to spiky indie band with attitude is complete. Hurray for the Riff Raff had made their Later debut the evening before and there was a real sense of a band that has arrived. The bulk of the set showcased songs from The Navigator, honed into slick shape by intense touring. Sometimes Alynda Segarra peers out from behind a semi-acoustic that is almost as big as she is, but it’s when she abandons the instrument and whirls, dervish-like, centre stage that she is at her most gripping, rasping out the political lyrics with a mixture of venom and charm. There is a sense of bonding with the audience throughout, emphasised by the huge backdrop declaring All In This Together. The band, (whose personnel can be known to change alarmingly rapidly) stays largely in the background. Hungry Ghost and Rican  Beach are irresistibly infectious, although Van Morrison could be excused for having a word about Living In The City. The absolute tour de force is Pa’lante, one of the most moving and dramatic climaxes any band has chosen to end its set.

Wickham Festival


August 3 – 7

View: Mud-spattered

Wickham has a long and illustrious history and this year chose to honour its folk roots by booking many of the artists who have faithfully supported the festival over a number of years. Show Of Hands, Seth Lakeman and Kathryn Tickellwere a formidable prospect on Friday, while Saturday saw a more eclectic line-up featuring the fabulously entertaining Dhol Foundation and a strong performance from The Selecter, currently more indie-rock and less dub. Eliza Carthy and the Paetbog Faeries saw a return to the folk on the Saturday but this was also the day for all-out fun and sublime showmanship in the form of John Otway and the inimitable Tankus The Henge. Certain people point out that Wickham line-ups tend not to vary much from year to year, and so it was on the opening (muddy but good-humoured) Thursday night, which saw repeat performances from two years ago by a chirpy KT Tunstall and Andy Fairweather-Low, whose Low Riders played a strange mixture of Amen Corner hits and skiffle standards. 10cc’s hit-laden headlining performance was a glorious exercise in consummate professionalism.

Rambin’ Roots Revue 

Bucks University, High Wycombe

5 – 7 April 17

View: Feeling like a student again

A capacity crowd and super-friendly atmosphere surely means this rootsy festival season-opener will become an annual event. The tightly-planned format was a plethora of mainly UK roots acts distributed over two rooms for a weekend.  As is its nature, there was a slight surfeit of Stetson-clad, generic UK country rock outfits that were hard to distinguish, but this made those who pushed the boundaries a little so very enjoyable: Peter Bruntnell, Paul Mc Clure, Co-Pilgrim, William The Conqueror, The Travelling Band and the inimitable John Murry (who pushed he boundaries A LOT). A few tweaks such as changing the layout to discourage the ubiquitous “talk all the way though everything” brigade should ensure a bright future for Ramblin’ Roots.

Alejandro Escovedo

The Bullingdon, Oxford


View: In the wings

Restored to full vitality after a long struggle with hepatitis, Alejandro Escovedo has found a heaven-made musical marriage by linking up with Italian spaghetti-westerners Don Antonio. They warmed the crowd up with their dry humour and their atmospheric instrumentals before comprehensively giving the lie to their claim that Italians can’t rock. At blistering volume, they backed the dapper Texan as he hurtled through highlights of his back catalogue of collaborations with the likes of Chuck Prophet and Bruce Springsteen. “Always A Friend” provoked mass pogoing among the ageing yet sprightly audience, while “Sally Was A Cop” was dedicated to “that truly horrible man Donald Trump” and allowed Antonio Gramentieri to stretch out with some savage lead guitar. It was encouraging, too, to hear (between the engaging inter-song stories) some strong new songs from his 2016 album “Burn Something Beautiful”. It looks like Alejandro, at the age of 67, is just starting out on a thrilling new career.

South By South West Festival

Austin, Texas

14 – 18 March

View: Bathed in sunshine

SXSW has got its mojo back after overcrowding and over corporatism had changed the vibe in recent years. A highlight was the twentieth anniversary of Bella Union Records, celebrated by a unique show from BNQT, a collaboration between Midlake, Fran Healey of Travis and Jason Lytle of Grandaddy, a band that itself had high profile shows at Stubbs and Waterloo Records. This record store also saw a much overpopulated show from local heroes Spoon, as well as one of many appearances by Robyn Hitchcock, a much revered figure round these parts. Ryan Adams disappointingly pulled out due to illness, but as usual the outlying, fringe venues such as Yard Dog hosted exciting performances from the likes of Austin  Lucas and the unforgettable Low Cut Connie. Artists making a strong impression included Philadelphia’s Beach Slang and an emotionally charged solo performance from Langhorne Slim at Licha’s Cantina.

End Of The Road Festival

Blandford, Dorset

2 – 4 Deptember

View: Moist

End Of The Road is that unusual (nowadays) thing, a festival for real music fans. And it’s a delight. Breakthrough artists this year included Margo Price, whose kick-ass band and rocking country stylings were reminiscent of Caitlin Rose at EOTRs past, and Chicago’s Whitney, who had the class to cover NRBQ. The female headliners delivered great entertainment, Cat Power prowling the stage in semi-darkness and the melodious Bat For Lashes conducting an onstage engagement party. The aptly-named Field Music were pleasingly old-fashioned, sounding at times disconcertingly like Steely Dan. The alt-country days of EOTR are nearly gone, with its broad-minded audience cheerfully accepting the musical challenges offered by the likes of Animal Collective, Ezra Furman and Wild Beasts. Portland’s Laura Gibson offered a blissful way to wake up, while Phosphorescent and M. Ward were both quite majestic, the latter cheekily offering a Buddy Holly cover. Sunday saw  indie heroes Scritti Politti and Teenage Fanclub showing they’ve still got it. The festival’s friendly vibe helped alleviate the general sogginess to create another triumph.

The Delines

The Railway, Winchester

The vibe was that of a smoky nightclub as the Delines hit the second show of their debut UK tour. Intended originally as a side project from Richmond Fontaine, this band has taken off in an unexpected way, with sell-out notices every night. Amy Boone’s voice has been compared o Dusty Springfield – the ultimate accolade, and what is striking is that Willy Vlautin has written his most affecting set of songs ever. There was a satisfyingly organic vibe to songs like Colfax Avenue and I Won’t Slip Up, country soul that grabbed the audience’s heart, but the variety was clever too – from the almost trip-hop of Flight 31 to a brace of drinking songs, one of them a cover of What One Bottle Can Do by Al James of Dolorean. Bassist Freddy Trujillo chipped in with his own Freddy Fender while pianist Cory Gray added colour to some of the songs with virtuoso trumpet. This seems to be a story that’s only just beginning.

Chuck Prophet And The Mission Express

The Tunnels, Bristol


View: Far out

Judging by the audience size, the Chuck Prophet breakthrough is finally happening. If Trump ever wants a true example of a fine-tuned machine, the Mission Express is it, with precision playing and the hottest guitar chops imaginable from Chuck and James DePrato. The set cleverly balanced new and old material. From the new album Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins came Bad Year For Rock And Roll and the frankly astonishing (and also very funny) Jesus Was A Social Drinker, featuring flamboyant synthesiser flourishes from Stephanie Finch. Also present were the stone cold Chuck classics such as Summertime Thing and an epic You Did.  As DePrato and Prophet raged into the Thin Lizzy-style dual guitar coda of Willy Mays Is Up At Bat, it felt like the bunker-like venue was in danger of exploding.

Richmond Fontaine

Electric Ballroom, London


View: From the back (couldn’t get near)

Just yards from when they played their first London show in 2004, Richmond Fontaine bade farewell to the UK in style, with a thousand-strong crowd hanging onto every word. The crystal clear sound and the near silent audience summed up how this band has come to be viewed – worthy of the closest attention on account of Willy Vlautin’s unique ability to connect with his lyrics. Each song is a story, and the faithful know that the band isn’t nearly as gloomy as reviews might suggest, because the songs are encased in melodies that entrance the listener and a musical context that sweeps you along. The set was made up of songs that fans had requested online, so it was a lengthy and panoramic performance that included seldom-played pieces like Northline as well as staples such as Post To Wire, Lonnie and Western Skyline. Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get better, they climaxed with the mesmerising Four Walls and – surely the saddest song even written – Lost In This World. Tears fell throughout the audience as they said goodbye in their normal dignified and intensely human way.

David Brent and Foregone Conclusion

Hammersmith Appollo


View: Stalled

It’s been an incredible few months in the career of David Brent. He’s seen a stratospheric rise from being on the road representing the hygiene firm Lavichem to headlining the capital’s famed Hammersmith Odeon. He must have been thrilled to find that the sell-out audience already knew the words to his tribute to the town of his previous employment, “Slough”, by heart. Celebrating his rags-to-riches story, Brent treated the audience to a run-though of all the hits on his debut album. It is heartening to encounter an artist with such a strong social conscience, as he marries catchy choruses with biting social comment. Seemingly no subject is taboo for this songwriter, as he lays bare the culture of the American West in “American Indian”, while not since McCartney and Wonder’s “Ebony And Ivory” has there been such a convincing plea for inter-racial harmony as “Equality Street”. Indeed, such attitudes are exemplified in his employment of rapper Dom Johnson who, truth to tell, occasionally threatens to steal the show. If there is to be any criticism of the set, it is the backing band. So polished are they that you could almost be deceived into thinking that might be session musicians brought in for the purpose of backing Brent. We’ll be hearing a lot more of this trailblazing artist. IRONY ALERT PLEASE!

Billy Walton Band

The 1865, Southampton

4 April 2019

View: Front row

Fresh off the red-eye from New Jersey, Billy Walton and his merry band were remarkably chipper as they faced a sedentary Thursday night Southampton audience. The six-piece with its origins in Asbury Jukes-land specialises in impressive instrumental wig-outs in the fields of supercharged funk and Hendrix-style blues-rock. They are often compared to Springsteen, but where the similarity ends is in the lack of anthems. This isn’t a singalong band, rather a showcase for musical expertise. Organist Eric Safaanot only resembles Jon Lord, he sounds like him too, with the nowadays unusual sight and sound of a Leslie cabinet wafting the tones out into the crowd. The two-piece horn section (sax and trumpet) are visually arresting but perhaps under-exploited, largely sticking to riffing. New young drummer Anthony Flora was playing his first UK show on his birthday, quite a baptism. As for front man Billy himself, an infectious smile is never far from his face as he barks out the lyrics before launching into hugely impressive, effects-laden solos, most spectacularly demonstrated onNight Turns Blue.They’ve made it their business to conquer the UK, and it’s happening.

The Long Ryders

Engine Rooms, Southampton


View: Against the front barrier

Sid Griffin describes himself as a “63 year old man who dresses like someone out of the Lovin’ Spoonful”, but he and his fellow Ryders were impressively chipper as they bounded on stage to the tones of the theme from The Magnificent Seven and launched straight into a bouncing Gunslinger Man. This is a serious reunion, underlined by the fact that it comes with a new album, whose title track Psychedelic Country Soul was a standout (and a rare slowing of pace). The audience was whirled back to a classic period when alt-country was on the march and bands like this one and Green On Red were vying for supremacy in the reedy vocals and twangy, rocking guitar stakes. Particularly impressive was the swapping of lead vocals between Griffin, Steven McCarthy and Tom Stevens, the latter two also both moving between lead guitar and bass. The whole thing had an air of smooth professionalism, probably a lot less rough than when this same line-up was touring the UK in 1985. The audience’s nostalgia was fed with plenty of old songs too; the surfing vibe of State Of My Union and the call and response of Looking For Lewis And Clarke had the room bouncing with joy. Mission accomplished for some good old guys still bursting with energy and commitment.

Joe Jackson

London Palladium

17 April 2019

View: In the Gods

A satisfying symmetry bookended this fortieth anniversary celebration of a long and distinguished career.  With the stage bathed in blood-red light, the show started and finished with a beautiful new slow bossa-nova called Alchemy. This, and other new pieces such as Fabulously Absolute and the cheeky-sounding title track of the new album Fool, showed that this is an artist still at the height of his powers. There was plenty of delving into some deep back catalogue cuts such as Invisible Man and the cover of the Beatles’ Rain. Oddly, it was the most famous songs that sounded almost perfunctory, the belly fire no longer quite so bright on Sunday Papers and I’m The Man. Teddy Kumpel’s guitar, eloquent on the more melodic tracks, didn’t cope so well with the choppy rhythms on those new wave classics. Doug Yowell’s drums, audaciously skilled, stopped just the right side of show-stealing, while Graham Maby continues to dazzle as one of the world’s most respected bassists. Jackson himself is criminally under-recognised as a songwriting and instrumental genius, and his creativity never seems to dwindle.

Rhythmtree Festival

Isle Of Wight

13 – 15 July

View: Sun-kissed

Eclecticism is the hallmark of this delightful festival, now in its tenth year. The organisers have a background in World music, with strong acts like The Bollywood Brass Band and Australia’s quirky Spooky Men’s Chorale vying with dub veterans Misty In Roots and infectious youthful reggae upstart Natty, whose children almost stole his show. On the smaller stages, the standout performance was by young Welsh guitar virtuoso Gwenifer Raymond. In a programme high on “special moments”, an emotional performance from Alabama 3, minus the dear departed Jake Black, was only topped by a dignified and ultra-slick set from Robert Plants’ new band Saving Grace. The chemistry with co-vocaliost Suzi Dian makes for a partnership that seems bound to last. Before a surprisingly hard-rocking climax from Cast, the Zombies delighted young and old with their hits plus some zippy R & B standards.

Wickham Festival

Wickham, Hampshire

1 – 4 August 2019

View: Sun-kissed

The ever-eclectic Wickham Festival kicked off with a Pete Frame dream whammy of Matthews Southern Comfort, Graham Nash and Judy Collins. High and low lights included Nash, voice intact, recalling his local acid experience in Cathedral and Matthews murdering Woodstock by turning it into something like a Gregorian chant. As for Collins (voice also pure and intact at 80), her tales of Joni and Dylan added to the beauty of the occasion.

After an excess of fiddles and squeezeboxes on Friday, what was needed was a stonking horn section and Level 42 obliged. Mark and Nathan King front the super-funky outfit, as if Nile Rogers had been born on the Isle Of Wight. It’s a band at the height of its powers and they’re clearly having the time of their lives.

Saturday saw punters faced with a choice between indie-rock (local boy Frank Turner) and some inventive trippy grooves from Afro Celt Sound System, a superb advert for multiculturalism. There were plenty of takers for both.

Along with some national treasures such as Ralph McTell and Gilbert O’Sullivan, Americana ruled the final day, with Kiefer Sutherland a revelation and Lucinda Williams’ monumental performance creating a thrilling atmosphere. Instrumentalist of the weekend – among much competition- was surely Lucinda’s genius guitarist Stuart Mathis.

Fontaines DC

The 1965, Southampton


A rammed 1865 saw the last show of a lengthy tour for the busy Dubliners. Support act Melts were ideally compatible and charmed the audience with their odd but appealing mix of Joy Division and The Doors.  Fontaines DC, if they don’t implode under the pressure like the Strypes did, have a massive future. The audience is noticeably older than the artists (a white-haired crowdsurfer was a novelty) – mature punk and indie fans who are delighted to find a new band playing their music. The similarity to the Blue Aeroplanes is uncanny, with the enigmatic Grian Chatten intoning his poetry over bursts of skittering guitar. In his inscrutability, he reminds us of Mark E Smith, but when he decides to grip the microphone intensely, there’s an unexpected hint of Lee Brilleaux. For the audience it’s the songs that matter, as they bellow along with every word, always a good sign of impending stardom. Standouts of the twelve-song set were Too Real and the mighty Boys In The Better Land. No encore though; it’s been a long, hard tour.


Southampton Guildhall


View: Bird’s eye

A rapt audience appreciated support Robert Ellis in his Texas Piano Man guise. The title and the flamboyant white tails belied an affecting performance of sensitive, subtle and bold songs. Fucking Crazy has echoes of Eels’ own heart-rending lament It’s A Motherfucker. As for He Made Me Do It, it’s frankly terrifying.

This was a classic Eels rock four-piece that had been slaying the summer festivals across Europe. With a sound that is instantly recognisable, Eels march on though occasional personnel changes, their unique personality intact. It remains very much E’s band, the others contributing largely from the back of the stage in their neat uniforms. E cuts an almost Chaplinesque figure, as, often minus guitar, his raw but plaintive vocals exude a sometimes-overlooked element of soul.

From the latest album, Deconstruction, came Bone Dry and You Are The Shining Light. Cheerfully-selected covers included a garage-like She Said Yeah, as well as selections from Bobby Gentry and Prince. Older Eels songs were either delivered as recorded (Souljacker Part 1) or freshened up by being completely deconstructed (sorry). Thus, Novocaine For the Soul took a moment to recognise and I Like Birds was hurtled out in the style of Motörhead.

“I’m old as fuck”, concludes E, “but I rock. What am I gonna do but rock?” He’s right.

Andy Burrows

Coffee Lab, Winchester


This homecoming pop-up charity gig was originally scheduled to take place in the forecourt of a coffee roasting factory on a trading estate, but had to be moved indoors at the last minute because of the weather conditions. First up was talented young Winchester singer Ollie Wade, whose set of poignant self-penned songs included a couple of Christmas specials and a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Andy Burrows himself did two sets as a duo with mandolinist Stu Wilkinson. The mood was lively as Andy swept through songs from The Snowman And The Snowdog, plus his forthcoming album with Tom Smith of Editors. Surprise guest Tom Odell strode onstage in his macintosh to wow the crowd with a tear-inducing “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. As the set climaxed with Razorlight chart hits “America” and “Before I Fall To Pieces”, the festive spirit was much in evidence and the local Naomi House Hospice celebrated a fundraising triumph.

Aldous Harding

The 1865, Southampton


If Hannah Harding changed her name because it sounded too much like a country singer, what kind of music does she play, then? Certainly neither country, folk nor pop. In both stage performance and musical approach, there’s a hint of latter-day PJ Harvey, whose producer, John Parish, was present here on congas alongside H Hawkline from Cate Le Bon’s band. To appreciate the slightly studied stage act, you needed to be in the front couple of rows, because the seated Aldous was largely invisible. Kicking off solo on acoustic guitar, she first performed I’m So Sorry and Living The Classics, both sepulchral and dripping with atmosphere. She likes to stare out her audience, and it works – even the most drunken of Friday night revellers were intimidated into total silence. The voice is wide-ranging but not demonstrative. Zoo Eyes is mysterious and quite beautiful, while the downbeat Damn is a piano duet based on a familiar riff. The nearest she got to pop music was in the sole encore, a percussive new ditty called Old Peel. As the band stood in an immobile, stony-faced row to acknowledge the applause, it summed up the performance: little joy, humour or emotion, yet strangely enthralling, perhaps more akin to theatre than a traditional gig.

The Murder Capital

Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

19 / 2 / 20

The fertile musical soil of Dublin is currently growing a crop of outstanding new bands. The Murder Capital already seem to have overtaken Fontaines DC in the popularity stakes. Singer James McGovern commands throughout, bouncing into the delighted audience just seconds into the first song, More Is less. The range of the band spans the wildest punk to thoughtful ballads like On Twisted Ground. Here, the band demonstrates that the best way to calm an over-excited audience is to play really, really quietly. In fact, audience manipulation seems to come naturally to them, as they carefully control the varying mood. With such a dominant personality as McGovern fronting the band, there is a slight air of anonymity about the others.  Smoking his way though booming Goth vocals and at one point, during Love Love Love, forcing the entire audience to sit down on the floor (beer-sodden from wild pogoing and body slamming), McGovern is the focal point throughout. But some of the sweetest musical interludes come courtesy of Damien Tuit’s progtastically melodic guitar, adding yet another dimension to this impressive young band.

Savoy Brown

Beaverwood Club, Chislehurst


The late sixties UK blues boom saw young white bands playing London suburbs like Richmond, Twickenham and indeed Chislehurst, whose legendary Caves played host to Hendrix, the Stones and also Savoy Brown. Today, places like Sutton and Chislehurst still welcome the same artists; the next few weeks will see Stray and the Groundhogs appear at the Beaverwood. The audience has grown older with the bands and still turns out in force. Savoy Brown made their fortune in the US and moved there, so it’s exciting to experience them returning to their roots. The incredibly sprightly Kim Simmonds, now resident in upstate New York, did the best thing a gifted blues rocker could do: found a smoking-hot US rhythm section (Pat DeSalvo and Garnet Grimm)and has stuck with them for over a decade. A career-spanning set featured songs from recent album Witchy Feelin’, which knocked the Stones off the top of the US blues charts, as well as Savoy Brown classics like Train To Nowhere, from 1969’s Blue Matter. There is something delightfully wholesome about Simmonds’ unaffected guitar style, with minimum effects and maximum feeling. A frenzied boogie climax, including a mesmerizing harmonica interlude and moving references to Danny Kirwan and Alvin Lee, saw these veterans rocking out like a bunch of teenagers. It was a stormy night both in and outside the venue.

Graham Parker And The Rumour

The Brook, Southampton

12. 10. 15

View: Next to the cameraman

Living in the Catskills seems to have had the same rejuvenating effect on Graham Parker as it has on Wreckless Eric. Dapperly clothed, slim and energetic, Parker is on the form of a lifetime. Allegedly heading for their last ever show, GP and the Rumour face a battery of video cameras filming the historic occasion for a live DVD. It’s very pleasing that all the original Rumour are in place. Martin Belmont looks more like a bank manager nowadays but it is his subtle guitar interplay with the more gritty Brinsley Schwarz that provides the soulful bedrock for a sound that’s stood the test of time. It’s not all nostalgia either, with songs like Wall Of Grace from the new album Mystery Glue in among the classics like Passion Is No Ordinary Word and Watch the Moon Come Down. The highlights come in the encore: A storming triple whammy of You Can’t Be Too Strong, Don’t Ask Me Questions and Hold back the Night. It was an emotional farewell.

Wickham Festival

Wickham, Hants

5 – 9 August 2015

View: Bucolic

This most eclectic of all festivals got off to a great start with a lovely set from Andy Fairweather-Low that had everyone singing along to Amen Corner favourites. Things then took a worrying turn as an unwell Wilko Johnson had to be escorted from the stage 30 minutes into his set. More cheerful was the next day, with a panoramic set from Billy Bragg, including a package from Mermaid Avenue. His Corbyn-fuelled monologues went down surprisingly well in the genteel Hampshire countryside. In stark contrast, the Proclaimers phoned in their performance with no attempt to engage the audience. Saturday featured trad folk, radical folk (Show Of Hands) and bland MOR (The “South”), but things really took off on Sunday, with highlights coming from unexpected sources: the crazed hippie-funk of Tankus The Henge and the irresistible Dhol Foundation stealing the show and giving a whole new Asian slant to the concept of “Oi!” music. Rounding things off, a rough and ready Tom Robinson was more fun than the super-slick 10CC, but I’m Not In Love sent us all home with buoyant hearts.

End Of The Road Festival

Blandford, Dorset,

3 – 6 September 2015 

View: Happy but bloody freezing

EOTR celebrated its tenth anniversary with a line-up short on its traditional Americana emphasis and long on nu-prog. The headliners (The War on Drugs, Sufjan Stevens) featured lengthy extemporisation, synths, loud/quiet interludes and soaring vocals, while Tame Impala were upstaged by their own light show and Future Islands took us back to the days of Depeche Mode. All these rose to the occasion and even My Morning Jacket were in a mood to stretch out instrumentally in the extreme chill of the evening. More succinct and much more confrontational were the brilliant Sleaford Mods, stylistically the most un-EOTR band ever but still triumphing. Continuing with the jamming, Dawes pulled off some spectacular guitar battles between Taylor Goldsmith and Duane Betts before creating a tearful festival moment with “All Your Favorite Bands”. Cate le Bon’s “experimental” band Drinks had everyone running for the woods clutching their ears, but luckily the woods contained lovely things too – notably a nicely jet-lagged cameo from rising star Andrew Combs. Every EOTR has its massive breakthrough, and this time it was The Delines, choosing precisely the right vibe for a sunny Sunday. The signing queue was about a mile long.

Kilkenny Roots

1 – 4 May 2015

Kilkenny, Ireland

View: Craic-ed up

The “friendliest little festival in the world” got off to a sensational start with a searing performance from John Murry. Looking and acting increasingly like a baddie in some deranged silent movie, Murry with his pick-up band killed Pavement’s Shady Lane before debuting new songs that indicate that his next album might even outdo the award-winning Graceless Age. Nominal Kilkenny bill-toppers were Calexico, whose panoramic and super-slick show at the plush Set Theatre ended up in mass partying. Male / female folk duos slugged it out in the form of London’s The Rails and Saskatoon’s Kacy And Clayton, both vying for the title of the new Fairports. In terms of commercial appeal, the highly-accessible Sons Of Bill seem set for mainstream success, but the band that Kilkenny clasped closest to its bosom was Montreal’s Barr Brothers. Their category-defying world / folk / blues virtuosity proved that there really is room for a harp in rock and roll.

South By South West Festival

Austin, Texas

17 – 22 March 2015

View: Dampish

After last year’s overcrowding and huge headliners, it felt like a conscious move back towards the original spirit of sxsw. With the help of some rain, it was quiet enough to return to the core task of seeking out hot new bands. American Aquarium, a Springsteenesque outfit from North Carolina, drew attention, as did Virginia’s classic rockers Sons Of Bill. On the country front, Andrew Combs looks set for stardom. At Hotel San Jose, a slightly damp showcase symbolised the genre-bending line-ups that make sxsw so special: Carl Barât, Gang Of Four and cool new band Houndmouth mixed it with The Zombies. Who’d have thought that the voice of the festival would be that of 70 year old Colin Blunstone? The best live band in the world right now is Chuck Prophet And The Mission Express, who were stalked by RC as they did nine shows in three days. Imminent breathroughs included Australia’s Courtney Barnett and Germany’s super-accessible Milky Chance, but only one outfit demonstrated the clear power to conquer the States. The ridiculously frantic energy levels and in-your-face enthusiasm of the Pogues-ish Skinny Lister mean that a Mumford-style triumph is inevitable. And you haven’t lived until you’ve been crowd-surfed over by someone playing a double bass.

Sleaford Mods

Joiners, Southampton


View: Behind a six foot seven man

If this is the future of rock, forget it. Not because they aren’t any good, but simply because of the audience’s demographic: forties and fifties. If Sleaford Mods revive the spirit of punk (which they sort of do), it’s not an introduction of punk to a new generation, it’s old punks reliving their youth. Sleaford Mods are a lot of entertaining fun. There’s Jason Williamson with a severe case of Tourettes, who jogs round in circles, gobs on the stage and wiggles his tongue, shouting like a cross between Eminem and John Cooper Clarke. Arguably even more entertaining is Andrew Fearn, whose role is to swig Corona, check his phone, do a mild grandad dance and, every ninety seconds, press a button on his laptop, like a grinning, emaciated John Shuttleworth. Williamson’s profane lyrics are actually very clever, with nifty wordplay, relevant themes and caring attitudes, rewarding repeated listening on the vinyl which, interestingly, at least a quarter of the audience walked away with. They ain’t here for the long haul (there aren’t enough real tunes for that), but go see them while they last. They sure are different, and in a bland musical environment, that counts for a lot.

Judith Owen

The Cellars, Southsea


View: Hunched on a stool

This was a strange show. Why has a flame-haired Welsh songstress recorded an album of her songs with some of the finest session musicians America has to offer? And what enables her to bring those very musicians to a cosy back street pub in Southsea? There’s legendary drummer Russ Kunkel and dreamy bassist Lee Sklar, although advertised guitarist Waddy Wachtel is inexplicably absent. It may possibly be to do with Judith’s husband, none other than Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer). The band is promoting Judith’s new album Ebb And Flow and the show contains not only some of the rambling songs of Laurel Canyon philosophy it contains, but also some reworkings of songs by artists they originally worked with, such as Carole King’s “It Might As Well Rain Until September” and James Taylor’s “Hey Mister, That’s Me Up On The Jukebox”. More bizarrely still, Judith likes to completely rework some popular classics, in this case Mungo Jerry’s “In The Summertime” and David Dundas’ “Jeans On”. The musicians, despite barely breaking into a sweat, are sublime, but the question is, is the world ready for a cross between Tori Amos and Lyndsey De Paul? Maybe. “This is just the start of something much bigger”, says Judith, confidently. We shall see.


Salisbury City Hall


View: Air-conditioned

Desperately eager to please, it would be hard to imagine a less suitable Eels support act then toothsome duo Daughters of Davis. It was probably a typical bit of ghoulish E-style humour paving the way for a long series of what the dapper Everett called “soft rock bummers” – two minute laments such as “Parallels” from new album The Cautionary Tales Of Mark Oliver Everett, culminating in the saddest song ever written, “It’s A Motherfucker”. There was a valedictory feel to this last date of a 53-date tour (“nursing 52 hangovers”, as E put it). Bookended by two tear-jerking standards, “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, were energetic re-workings of Eels favourites “Fresh Feeling” And “I Like Birds”. Not since Chuck Berry has an artist been so adept at recycling his own songs while still retaining the affection of his audience. We’ll forgive him anything.

Jesse Malin

Dingwalls, London


View: Crouching

It’s been four years since Jesse Malin played in the UK and the audience was psyched up after a strong introductory set from Hollis Brown. The interim has been spent writing and recording a new album, which on first live hearing sounds to be stuffed with characteristically affecting songs. The diminutive New York road warrior exudes rock and roll charm and comes with the band that helped him record the new material, featuring guitarist Mike Montali and extremely dapper bassist Don DiLego. Apart from a confusing incident when too much instrument swopping went wrong and they lost their way, this made for a storming show with some moments of pure beauty, such as when the whole audience sat down, hippie-style, for the gorgeous “Bar Life”. Jesse has a great way with an anecdote and charmed the midweek audience with his fury at press accusations of being “alt-country”. New songs like “Addicted” and “Year I was Born” vied for attention with old favourites “Wendy” and “Hotel Columbia”. Let’s hope this marks the start of a Malin revival.

End Of The Road Festival


29 August – 21 September 2014

View: Bucolic

Considering that half the bands here have been influenced by Pavement, it was a joy to hear Stephen Malkmus, master of the contorted guitar, in action. By contrast, Jenny Lewis was as poppy as this festival gets, as the chill wind blew around her. The first exclusive was the cumbersomely-named Gene Clark – No Other Band (featuring Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes and the often sadly overlooked Iain Matthews, plus a Vegas-style compère). There were some truly beautiful voices here and a blockbusting encore of Eight Miles High.

New names making breakthroughs included Montreal’s Barr Brothers, cementing the role of the harp in rock and roll and sounding uncannily like The Low Anthem in so doing. Andrew Combs also charmed, as did the fragile but bewitching Tiny Ruins. Forthcoming plaudits for young Benjamin Booker as the new indie Hendrix are inevitable – and deserved. One exciting and unexpected show was the blazing psychedelia of Sean Lennon’s new band The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger, almost giving the Flaming Lips a run for their money.

Talking of whom … It was a joyful enough festival anyway, but Wayne Coyne and gang ratcheted up the happiness meter to the level of ecstasy. With their skill at turning a potential shambles into a technological multi-media masterpiece, they amazed and thrilled everyone from kids to grandparents. The organisers of this brilliant festival will have to go some to top this next year.

Oliver Gray

Wickham Festival


14 – 17 August 2014

View: “VIP”

From Bellowhead to James Blunt, Wickham Festival 2014 enhanced its reputation for relaxed musical randomness. Equally reviled and adored, Blunt boosted attendance figures to the extent that camping chairs were banned – controversial. The energetic skanking of Neville Staple (close your eyes and it’s the Specials) interrupted the general drowsiness of Friday afternoon. Hazel O’Connor is still playing Breaking Glass songs but now in a quite charming cabaret trio format. An almost unchanged Hugh Cornwell played some Stranglers numbers (close your eyes and it’s definitely not the Stranglers) and embarrassingly got an enthusiastic response when asking how many audience members read the Daily Mail. Among the enormous sub bill, two new acts stood out – Tankus The Henge and Connecticut’s Caravan Of Thieves – so good they were asked to play twice. They covered Bohemian Rhapsody and lived to tell the tale. It was left to a genial Steve Earle to be crowned as the highlight by delivering a crowd-pleasing set of hits. Wickham’s Boomers wear their bus passes with pride, and have a lot of fun on the way.

Truck Festival

Steventon, Oxford

17 -19 July 2014

View: Hobgolinned

In past years, Truck has endured travails such as floods and insolvency. Not this time, though. Happiness was the keynote of the weekend, as a sell-out crowd escaped the corporate nature of bigger festivals and concentrated on the music. The main stage paid host to a stream of slightly dated synth-based indie rock from the likes of White Lies and The Twilight Sad, all of them dwarfed by a dramatic set from local heroes Stornoway. Slow Club’s performance was frustrating, starting off enthusiastically and fizzling out in a bunch of mediocre songs, before Roots Manuva got things moving again. Of the main headliners, The Cribs were the most polished, while riotous duo Deap Vally caused the most controversy and a discreet veil needs to be drawn over the latest version of Gang Of Four. Continung the cheerful eclecticism, British soul-rockers Danny And The Champions Of The World brought the house down – twice, while musical joy could be found in adventurous sets from lesser-known (but very Truckish) acts like Chris T-T, Co-Pilgrim and the twinkling Steven James Adams (ex of the Broken Family Band). Pure fun in the sun.

The Delines

The Art Bar, Oxford

14 June 2014

View: Comfy

The vibe is that of a smoky nightclub as the Delines hit the fourth show of their debut UK tour. Intended originally as a side project from Richmond Fontaine, this band has taken off in an unexpected way, with sell-out notices every night. Amy Boone’s voice has been compared to Dusty Springfield – the ultimate accolade, and what is striking is that Willy Vlautin has written his most affecting set of songs ever. There’s a satisfyingly organic vibe to songs like Colfax Avenue and I Won’t Slip Up, country soul that grabs your heart, but the variety is clever too – from the almost trip-hop of Flight 31 to a brace of drinking songs, one of them a cover of What One Bottle Can Do by Al James of Dolorean. Bassist Freddy Trujillo chips in with his own Freddy Fender while pianist Cory Gray adds colour to some of the songs with virtuoso trumpet. You get the feeling this is a story that’s only just beginning.


Salisbury City Hall


View: Unimpeded

The significant looks when a mistake is made, the relieved grins at the end of each song – such are the tell-tale signs of the first night of a tour. Mind you, it’s forgivable when your benchmark track is the 23-minute long “Nine Feet Underground”, written in 1971 by the absent David Sinclair. Indeed, only the statuesque Pye Hastings remains from the original line-up, although stalwarts like Geoff Richardson and Jan Schelhaas have been around for a long while. Caravan have a new album called Paradise Filter and it’s not very proggy. Many of the new songs which formed the bulk of the set, including I’ll Be There For You and the title track, are actually quite conventional rock / pop tunes, played mainly with great competence by the multi-instrumentalist Richardson. Among the small selection of oldies was a rather inappropriately funked-up version of Golf Girl. Back in the day, there was much swopping of members between Caravan and Camel. Now, in the battle of the unlikely prog comebacks, Camel are winning hands down.


The Barbican, London


View: Unimpeded

When a show starts with a standing ovation before a note has been played, something special is going on. “It’s good to be here”, said Andy Latimer. “At my age, it’s good to be anywhere”. Knowing his recent history of severe health problems, there was hardly a dry eye in the house; most of the audience had thought they’d never see this day. What’s more, as sole original member, Andy is on tip-top form, his guitar playing as rich as ever in tone and melody, and tough and gritty when required. The historic run-through of The Snow Goose (the first since the mid seventies) took up the first half, the musicianship precise, the atmosphere joyful. Nothing could replace the silken Hammond of Peter Bardens, but keyboardists Jason Hart and Guy LeBlanc do a grand job. This is one band for which “prog” never meant ”pretentious”. Part two saw an eclectic selection of Camel classics, some less successful than others. An acoustic intro to Never Let Go was scrappy and Fox Hill was ill-chosen, but For Today was reminiscent of Gary Moore at his best and by the time an ecstatic audience was being entranced by their biggest “hit” Lady Fantasy, it looked, sounded and felt as if Camel is back for good.

The Hoax

The Railway, Winchester


View: Squashed

An amazing fifteen years since their last studio album, the audience thought they were witnessing a miracle as the original Hoax line-up reconvened to present their new crowd-funded effort “Big City Blues”. This was the first date and the capacity blues addict audience was pleasingly tolerant of support act Well Hung Heart, featuring Hoax bassist Robin Davey and his wife Greta, sporting – yes – a lampshade, as she covered Radiohead’s “Creep”. You had to be there to appreciate the fun. With great courage, The Hoax blasted out the whole of the new album, which consists of snappy, grunge-bluesy two minuters like “Hipslicker” and “Let It Shine”, each with the kind of attention-grabbing hooks that got people joining in even though they had never heard them before. This is a new, leaner Hoax with the guitar battles between Jon Amor and Jesse Davey now heavily edited and all the more impressive for it. The band is, amazingly, hotter than it’s ever been before.

Wickham Festival

1 – 4 August 2013

View: Among the picnic chairs

Wickham has discovered a lucrative way to attract festival-goers: Combine a trad folk fest with a bunch of retro pop and rock acts and pull in a crossover audience. It worked, as it was a sellout. A laidback crowd of mellow grandparents enjoyed the likes of Seth Lakeman, who could use some new creative input, and Show of Hands, whose eclectic approach and super-smooth professionalism mean they are always entertaining. The Waterboys impressed on their comeback and a version of 10CC hit the nostalgia button, while Dexys riled the audience by ignoring their hits. The seemingly never-ending supply of hoedown specialists (don’t mention the Peatbog Faeries’ bagpipes please) gave way on the final day to some classic and much-loved rockers. Wilko Johnson stormed through a high-energy set and even joined the Blockheads later. Not much in the way of new bands here, it’s not that sort of festival, but Public Service Broadcasting shone like a beacon of innovation and Southampton’s Sean McGowan triumphed against some leaking sound from the dire covers band in the next-door tent.


The Palmeira, Hove


View: Trampled underfoot

You may think that a festival of UK Americana and folk would be a laid-back affair but not in this case. By the time Danny George Wilson was leading his eight-piece Champions Of The World towards the late-night climax, the Palmeira pub had been turned into a massive, sweaty, pogoing moshpit, consisting largely of artists who’d previously been on stage and were now letting their hair down. Peter Bruntnell and his electric band had just finished a set of psychedelic rock of such power that the audience, after a day of hard drinking, was almost hysterical with joy. Two stages alternated throughout the day, with acoustic sets from gruff-voiced Jack Day and Radio Two’s favourite Liverpudlian Robert Vincent. But things took off with Welsh scallywags The Caves, sounding like a cross between The Hollies and Ash, and then the beautiful, wafting songs of Devon’s Small Town Jones, accompanied by guitarist of the day, the extraordinarily gifted Dave Little. Oxford’s Dreaming Spires added an indie touch before the Champs almost literally brought the house (well, the chandelier) down. Wild stuff.

John Murry

Bush Hall, London


View: Comfy

John Murry and his band Dark Matter’s show benefited the from the intimacy of what is surely London’s most atmospheric venue outside the Union Chapel. Murry was onstage during the support, duetting with Peter Bruntnell on the lovely Handful Of Stars. Starting the set dressed in a soon-abandoned flat cap, Murry had the audience transfixed as he revisited tracks from his extraordinary Graceless Age album. The music is squally rock, not the fey “Americana” with which he has been lazily tagged and Murry’s stage presence defies description, wavering between super rockstar confidence, nervous diffidence, wry humour, baffled innocence and twitchy edginess. He also plays a mean Telecaster, entwined with the potent lead guitar of Sean Coleman. But in the end, it’s all about the songs and the story of salvation from drug addiction. While the album is lushly produced, beautiful songs like California and Southern Sky take on harsh new dimensions, with the tour de force Little Colored Balloons being one of the world’s great live music experiences. Murry gives it absolutely everything every night and the audience simply melts. How does he do it?

World Party

Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth


View: Among friends

A rotund but chipper figure, Kark Wallinger shared the stage with a stripped down World Party consisting of the Blockheads’ Jon Turnbull on guitar and regular violinist David Duffy. The big mystery was how such a canon of genius songs can’t even fill a little venue like this. The avuncular Wallinger, seemingly a picture of contentment, took charge of every song from his substantial back catalogue, and out they tumbled. An interlude at the piano featured a celebratory “She’s The One”, while Duffy switched to mandolin for “Is It Like Today”. There wasn’t a person in the house not bellowing out the uniquely irresistible choruses of “Put The Message In The Box” and “Ship Of Fools”. The band were clearly relishing every moment and by the time they were encoring with Way Down Now, the audience was consumed with a wave of emotion, shouting out their love for Wallinger. “Don’t be silly now” was all the self-deprecating star would say, as the audience continued to bellow the Stonesian “whoo whoos” out into the night.

Ray Davies

Southampton Guildhall


View: Installed in the stalls

Why does Ray Davies keep running off stage every few minutes? Speculation was rife. Surely not drugs at his age? A weak bladder, maybe? Suddenly, someone spotted it: “Look, he’s changed his shoes!” This was a fun, nostalgic evening of hits, but the workmanlike band made it a long way away from the excitement of the Kinks. You definitely had the feeling of a job being done the same way as every night, with singalongs encouraged and compliments paid to the wonderful Southampton crowd (same as any other). The most poignant moments came not with the throwaway versions of the hit singles but rather with the beautiful and still tear-jerking “Celluloid Heroes” and a lovely acapella version of “Days”. Ray almost met his match in the form of support act Small Town Jones, drafted in at the last minute to melt the audience’s hearts and empty their pockets at the merch stand.

Alabama Shakes

Birmingham HMV Institute
11 May 2012
View: Squashed

Alabama Shakes must be feeling strange right now. Just months after their UK debut in a London pub, here they found their show being upgraded from the Institute’’s smallest room to its largest. With just the one Boys And Girls album and less than an hour’’s worth of music to play, they faced a rowdy and inattentive Friday night audience and, frankly, didn’’t deliver. The number of people complaining about their neighbours chatting loudly through all the (many) quiet sections must reveal something about the band’’s ability to grip an audience. The most common comment in the room was “”Give it six months and Brittany Howard will be a solo artist”” and the most noticeable thing about the band was the complete absence of any interpersonal communication or indeed enthusiasm. Which is a real shame, because Howard is an undisputed talent. She uses that extraordinary voice in clever and subtle ways (perhaps too clever for this goodtime crowd, who only seemed to recognize “Hold On”) and her underrated guitar playing is particularly impressive. The band? Well, remember the expression Sleeperblokes? They’’re back, folks. Those expecting Adele-style rapture were deeply disappointed.

Richmond Fontaine / Richard Buckner / Peter Bruntnell

Cecil Sharp House, London
View: Reverential

The folkies of Cecil Sharp House had never heard the like. Guitarist Dan Eccles was on all fours as a good five minutes of controlled feedback provided the coda to an extraordinary re-working by Richard Buckner of The Cars’’ Candy-O. This was the climax of a show which reinvented the package tour, as Buckner, designated driver Peter Bruntnell and the Richmond Fontaine duo of Eccles and Willy Vlautin first did their own sets and then linked up for the finale. Bruntnell’’s invariably excellent songwriting went down well (new songs included London Clay and Caroline). Using all manner of guitar trickery, Richard Buckner presented a career-spanning set in the form of clusters of five or six songs, merging into each other in mesmerising fashion. As for Richmond Fontaine, there’’s a uniqueness in the way their gripping songs of death and disappointment are presented in an atmosphere of the utmost good humour. This rainy London evening provided fantastic value for the sold-out crowd.

Kathleen Edwards
Islington Academy
View: Plush balcony

It was one of those never-to-be-forgotten moments. Alone on stage, battling to articulate the meaning of her song “House Full Of Empty Rooms”, Kathleen Edwards gives up. “”Shit, fuck”,” she spits, and the tears begin to flow both from her and the audience. Such a sassy, confident, stomping stage performer and yet so vulnerable to pent-up emotion. Something about London seems to bring out the best in her, as she seemed truly emotional about the audience’’s reaction to her performance. Starting with a cool double whammy from the new Bon Iver-produced Voyageur album (Empty Threat and Chameleon / Comedian), Kathleen satisfied all wishes with a chunk of new songs and a ready scattering of favourites such as Asking For Flowers and a truly storming Back To Me. She sure knows how to pick a band too. Long-standing bassist John Dinsmore is joined by drummer Lyle Molzan, Daniel Ledwell on keys (causing hysterics on stage and in the audience with emergency mid-song repairs) and a stunning replacement for Colin Cripps in the form of long tall guitarist Gord Tough. Cool and calm, his soloing nevertheless elicited several outbursts of mid-song applause. Kathleen has a beautiful voice, intriguing onstage manner, gorgeous songs and she bows a mean violin too. It was quite a night.

Windmill, Brixton
View: Slightly damp

Taylor Goldsmith has got the frontman thing down to a tee. Unbroken eye contact with the front row and others behind ensures that the ladies in the audience gently melt (almost literally, as the heat means that droplets of warm rain are falling on their heads). Then, as he throws out the very precise and tuneful guitar solos which pepper each song, the musos are entranced as well. Add in an entire album’s worth of killer songs and you have a band whose future is secure. Goldsmith has a happy knack of pronouncing all his lyrics in such a way that you can hear every word – – very unusual in rock and roll. No wonder Dawes’ fans and collaborators include Glen Dampbell and Jackson Browne. Playing pretty much the whole of their aptly-titled “Nothing Is Wrong” album (although not necessarily in the right order) means that one melodic gem after the other tumbles out, accompanied by an audience which knows them all by heart. Not even a recalcitrant Wurlitzer can ruin the general joy, with drummer (and brother) Griffin Goldsmith providing vital extra vocal muscle and a languid backbeat worthy of Mercury Rev. Following a truly majestic “So Well”, the climax is reached with the lyrically surreal “Time Spent In Los Angeles”. One of those “”I was there”” gigs.

Mark Eitzel / Richard Buckner
Buffalo Bar, Cardiff
View: Over a Buffalo Burger

A triple bill of extraordinary quality was kicked of by Sacri Cuori, an Italian minimalist instrumental trio with strong Calexico connections. Next up, the brilliant Mark Eitzel. Currently between albums, Mark here displayed his torch singing ability with classics like “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” and favourites such as “Gravity Talks” and “Nothing Changes”. If he sings anything new, he says, it’’s leaked on the internet within hours.
Performing his first UK shows in eight years, Richard Buckner was worried about following Eitzel, but it worked out fine. Backed with sympathetic precision by Sacri Cuori, the big man’’s downbeat, laconic melodies as displayed on his new album “Our Blood” were an understated treat.
A certain awkwardness about addressing the audience was summed up by an incident involving an injured finger and a snack in the front row. “”I’’m bleeding over your nuts”, observed Buckner wryly. “I bet you don’’t hear that every day”.

Truck Festival
Steventon, Oxford
22 – 24 July 2011
View: Sun-kissed

Big names were absent from the expanded Truck, unless you count Graham Coxon or St Etienne. Instead, the voguish Americana mode was embraced, making for a pleasant, low-key event. The over-clever Bellowhead contrasted with a triumphant set by the folk-soul of The Duke And The King, arguably band of the festival. Flop of the weekend was Philip Selway, who managed to empty the tent of people who were not angry, just bored. Following on, John Grant showed his accolades are deserved. There was an exciting breakthrough by the innovative Sea Of Bees and a life-affirming set from a hearteningly sprightly Edwyn Collins with his great session band. Caitlin Rose and Richmond Fontaine had acoustic fun in the sun, while, on the pop front, Young Knives revealed a debt to Blur. Interesting new acts included Oxford’s Spring Offensive and young Danes Treefight For Sunlight (although they should have refrained from destroying “Wuthering Heights”). Not a bad way to spend a weekend at all.

The Flaming Lips
Eden Project, Cornwall
30 June 2011

Free admission to the domes and an all-day programme featuring the likes the excellent OK Go (full marks for the multicoloured outfits) made this a grand value day out. And what more appropriate setting could be imagined for Wayne Coyne’’s traditional audience excursion in his very own geometric dome? The balloons, confetti and general bonhomie ensure that the audience is up and in a state of hysteria before the show is three minutes old. Among the newer material they resurrect “She Don’’t Use Jelly”, allowing some breathing space before a storming “Yoshimi” and encores of the ever-stunning “Race For The Prize” and “Do You Realize?” bring us back to fever pitch (not to mention a tear to the eye). Still endearing is the falsetto “”Thank You”” that Steven Drodz uses to acknowledge the adulation. He is the evil genius behind it all, after all. Meanwhile, they’’ll still be picking up the confetti from the Cornwall countryside this time next year.

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter
Monto Water Rats, London
21 April 2011
View: Close

It was one of those classic London gig scenarios featuring noise leaking in from next door and endless support bands from hell, but nothing could faze these seasoned Seattle pros. Boldly easing themselves in with a lengthy instrumental (Weight Of Cancer), they had the audience entranced from the off. Playing almost all of their new album Marble Son (which deserves success of at least Fleet Foxian proportions), guitarist Phil Wandscher is very much to the fore with brilliantly broody, effect-laden soling. On the proggy Pleasuring The Divine he sounds much like the criminally under-rated Andrew Latimer of Camel. Between all this come Jesse’’s atmospheric close harmony songs such as Be It Me Or Be It None and the Sykes classic The Air Is Thin. A picture of concentration, she warms the audience’’s collective heart with her ethereal presence and her other-worldly voice. It’s only a matter of time.

The Low Anthem
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
11 / 4 / 11
View: Closer than expected

Talk about snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The most charming and memorable section of the Low Anthem’’s set came when they descended into the audience for fifteen minutes of acoustic songs while frazzled engineers battled with an imploding sound system. “Don’’t go back”, pleaded the audience, recognizing the obvious truth that this wonderful band simply doesn’’t require amplification. They accepted it themselves too: “We don’’t need any of this gear”, admitted Ben Knox Miller, promptly ceding the stage to a clarinet trio that could have come straight from a school assembly. A venue like this suits the band’’s intimacy but not their loud interludes, which they really should consider dropping. Completely at one with their audience (who dutifully accompanied This God Damn House with their mobile phones), they remained low-key after the interruption, climaxing with the brilliant Oh My God Charlie Darwin and Cohen’’s Bird On a Wire. How reassuring that such original, calm, understated music commands such a large following.

The Duke And The King
Electric Ballroom, London
27 / 10 / 10
View: Cosy

When people ask what The Duke And The King are like, the nearest I can get is a cross between Neil Young and Marvin Gaye. Certainly, their jaw-droppingly soulful singalong finale of Young’’s “Helpless” is one of current music’’s unique moments. This London show was slightly muted on account of a family bereavement in the band, but it felt like a breakthrough show for them nonetheless.
The musical pot-pourri of indie-cool Simone Felice, violin-toting soul diva Simi Stone, mountain minstrel Bobby Bird and yearning funk drummer Nowell Haskins (he’’s the son of P/Funk co-founder Clarence “”Fuzzy” Haskins) starts with what seems for a moment to be a standard alt-country strumalong with “If You Ever Get Famous”, then flattens the audience when Nowell’’s vocals kick in and you realize you’’re at a soul concert. It’’s spine-tingling, and it continues for over an hour, with all four members taking lead vocals and harmonizing barber-shop style.
And afterwards, of course, the band are all out socializing with their audience. It’’s a unique relationship, destined to be a long-lasting one.

C.W. Stoneking
Mr Kyps, Poole

View: Safely away from the talkers
Experiencing C.W. Stoneking is a bit like watching The Wire: for the first half you don’’t understand a word but by the end, you’’ve adjusted and relaxed into it. The Buster Keaton lookalike and ex-ventriloquist (he hardly opens his mouth throughout) has tales to tell as he delivers his “jungle blues” with the help of a battered tenor banjo, a National steel and a Dixieland brass section of cornet, trombone and tuba. Handyman Blues storms along, while Jungle Lullaby nearly morphs, Paolo Nutini-style, into I Wanna Be Like You. Even incorporating Jimmie Rogers-style yodelling into the spuriously explained jungle concept, it’s no wonder the folks of New Orleans were baffled by the arrival of the Australian bluesman and could only offer him a job in a hoodoo shop.
It’’s all charmingly entertaining but probably, in the great scheme of things, more of a novelty than a great work of art.


Southampton University

9 / 3 / 05

It’s lovely for the folk of Southampton to have a band to champion at last. Previously, they had to pretend to be proud of Craig David. Warmed up by the gorgeous retro chic of Winchester’’s Scarlet Soho, the crowd felt like one big family as the appropriate intro music of the Stones’ “We Love You” wafted out. Like a cross between the Four Seasons and the Small Faces, these guys are so tiny that they are almost obscured behind the bouncers standing a metre lower than them. “You And Me”, the first track on the new album (which the audience mysteriously already knows by heart) demonstrates Greg Gilbert’’s falsetto in all its glory. This is classic pop summed up in three minutes, and with two albums under their belts, they have an array of glittering tunes to choose from. New single “Valentine” breezes along like Odyssey-era Zombies. Behind the faded glamour there’’s real craftsmanship at work; they know their way round a hook, but they can rock out and charm an audience as well. Little blokes with bouffants rule, yes?


Royal Festival Hall, London

23 / 5 / 05

Since Eels concerts have been known to feature fist fights because of E’’s insistence on a seated, silent audience, the RFH must be his ideal venue. And the “special guests” turn out to be a Russian animated children’’s film. Eels’ unpredictability is almost becoming predictable. To be fair, he couldn’’t turn up at some rock dive with this Butch-less (i.e. drummer-less, not really Eels at all) band, complete with nubile string quartet. Hardly a song on “Blinking Lights” is more than two minutes long, so there’’s very much a “classical” feel, with each brief “movement” being politely applauded. With his crumpled Charlie Chaplin suit, cane and ever-present cigarette, it’s purely the E Show, although something that is new and works brilliantly is the blending of strings, pedal steel and saw. Apologizing for maybe disappointing us (he even disguised “Bus Stop Boxer”, “Birds” and “Dog Faced Boy” as requests for the Queen), E really needs to learn that he can actually do what he likes and we WON’’T MIND!

The Hollies

Basingstoke Anvil

20 / 10 / 05

View: From the Bus Stop (only kidding, folks)

Stylish threads, snappy guitars, cracking tunes and cool haircuts: … it could only be Franz Ferdinand. Or, indeed, the Hollies. With a new deal, their first original album in two decades due in February, and offical endorsement from the likes of My Morning Jacket and Fountains of Wayne, the Hollies are on quite a roll. Peter Howarth might have been born to front the Hollies, so perfectly does he fill the role. In among all the hits (many now expanded from three to four part harmonies), he unexpectedly inserts solo acoustic adaptations of “Here I Go Again” and Springsteen’’s “Sandy” which contend with any of today’s singer-songwriters and knock spots off James Blunt (ironic, in view of the fact that their best new song is called “So Damn Beautiful”). Both Bobby Elliott and Tony Hicks have drunk from the fountain of youth, and the new young Hollies members have rejuvenated the band. To be chucking in vital-sounding new songs and reinterpreting most of the old ones is pretty energetic stuff after 42 years on the road. And as Hicks launches into a spectacular Lynyrd Skynyrd style coda on “Look Through Any Window”, you wonder why they’’ve never been treated with the respect they deserve. Michael Eavis, put them on the Pyramid Stage on Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury 2007. Imagine that lot singing along with “He Ain’’t Heavy, He’’s My Brother”.

Cerys Matthews

Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

21 / 7 / 06

Cerys claimed that she’’d been the first band member to reach the hotel lobby, so keen was she to get onstage after a six-year absence. How pleasing it is to report that what seemed to be one of the UK’’s lost treasures is back in style, beauty, good health and fine voice. A small frisson passed over the crowd as, three songs in, Cerys and her crack band of long-haired instrument-swopping Nashville musos treated us to “Lost Cat”, but it was the only reference to either her Catatonia past or her more recent country dabblings. Clutching a guitar for most of the hour-long set, and with the occasional false start and nervous glance revealing that this was the start of a new project, she proved she certainly hasn’’t lost her way with a tune. With both the little girl lost falsetto and the Rhondda Roar fully intact (albeit with an accent which combines Tennessee and Swansea), a good-humoured Cerys gave notice that her new “Never Said Goodbye” album is going to be a cracker and that her new career is going to be as exciting as the old one. Who’’d have thought it?

End Of The Road Festival

Dorset, UK

17 / 9 / 06

View: Scrumpy-addled

Just when we thought there was no gimmick left to plunder, we realize we’’d overlooked tap dancing. The unfairly pulchritudinous Tilly On The Wall are certainly the first band since Mungo Jerry to feature miked-up stomping boards. It would scream “short-lived gimmick” were it not for some super Abba-style tunes and harmonies. Howe Gelb can be either slick or shambolic. Today (sans moustache and gospel choir), he was in semi-shambolic mode, but that’’s when he is at his most endearing. His version of PJ Harvey’s “The Desperate Kingdom Of Love” squared the circle between Arizona and Dorset. Despite (or probably because of) Ryan Adams’ “drumming”, Jolie Holland was a major disappointment, but Richard Hawley’’s modern-day crooning cheered things up a lot, as did the harmony pop of Jim Noir, by no means as bleak as his name might imply. Plus, he had stolen Howe Gelb’’s moustache. As Ryan Adams’ carpet techs hit the stage (don’’t ask), the word was that he was “being “an arse”” backstage, but this turned out to be a measured and incident-free performance. Neal Casal has brought equilibrium with him and traded extended licks with the main man on “Cold Roses” and on numerous examples of what Adams terms his “”new jams””. Inspiring stuff, and a great coup for a new festival which, in the words of Chris T-T, is “run by human beings and not a beer company”.

Steve Winwood

Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

25 / 4 / 2007

The warm atmosphere and the billing of this three-hour show as “An Evening With Steve Winwood” revealed Steve as a man comfortable with all stages of his career. In no particular order, we were treated to Spencer Davis hits (a throwaway “Somebody Help Me” and a monstrous “Gimme Some Loving”), Traffic classics from early (“Medicated Goo”) to later (“Light Up Or Leave Me Alone”) via Blind Faith (“Can’’t Find My Way Home”). Landing at the Winwood solo years, his most commercially successful period (“Higher Love” etc.) now sounds his artistically weakest, while the latest album shows an artist at the peak of his powers (his cover of Timmy Thomas’’ “Why Can’t We Live Together” being an unexpected highlight of a set with may highs). The evergreen Winwood can afford to surround himself with the cream of sessioners, and by any standards, saxist Paul Booth and stand-in guitarist Tim Cansfield are sensationally funky. From the very first note, the silken Hammond, the glorious work on the bass pedals and that voice – seemingly unchanged since he was sixteen – caused the audience to pinch itself at being so close to a legend. Dear Mr Fantasy indeed.

Spencer Davis Group

100 Club, London

3 / 2 / 07

View: Very close

The current version of the Spencer Davis Group has been together far longer than the original one, and contains such great musicians that it’’s a mystery why their profile isn’’t higher. The answer is, of course, No Winwood, but Eddie Hardin remains as excellent a replacement as he was in 1967, teasing out the huge Hammond sound to accompany the towering guitar of the evergreen and ever-dexterous Miller Anderson. The genial Colin Hodgkinson on bass gels nicely with the newest member, drummer Stef Porzel, while Spencer … well, he remains Spencer, the catalyst figure, still addicted to life on the road when he could well have been forgiven for slipping into a comfortable retirement. Warmed up by a fantastic London mod trio called The Turn, SDG’s act is the hits and more, of course, with my favourite being Hardin’’s reflective interlude “Deep In My Despair”. As they blasted out “Gimme Some Lovin’’”, the sweaty R & B atmosphere was probably much as it was when they were playing such subterranean London clubs in the Sixties. How nice to know that some things never change.

The Twang

Joiners Arms, Southampton

March 28 2007

View: Unimpeded

This should have been a lot better. The Twang is the new buzz band – (front of the NME after just one single, for goodness’’ sake) – but there was a surprisingly low-key atmosphere among the mostly male and -– whisper it – – largely middle-aged audience. The sparse instrumentation and Brum-accented spoken vocals attempt to give a 2-Tone feel but the effect is more The Streets played by Duran Duran. Yes, the dated guitar effects are pure eighties and laughable if we were’’t convinced that these are cool dudes. They aren’’t even convinced themselves, with front man Phil Etheridge only waking up two songs before the end and the guitarist and bassist looking terrified throughout. The audience only recognized one song, unsurprisingly the single “Wide Awake”, and there wasn’’t much in the set of similar quality. One doesn’’t like to be pessimistic, but a long and successful career seems unlikely.

Isle of Wight Festival 2007

The festival started with a tenth-rate Supertramp (The Feeling) and some music for TV ads (Groove Armada). Snow Patrol’’s anthems were too squeaky-clean for their headlining slot. Saturday featured the original IOW troubadour, Donovan. The mass singalong to “Sunshine Superman” suited the mood perfectly. The impressive funk and ska of the charming Amy Winehouse had the whole field jumping. Total fun, as were Wolfmother, who brazenly usurped the approach of the island’s honorary patron saint, Jimi Hendrix. Ash blew it by trying out new material on an inappropriate occasion, while Kasabian came close to stealing the show with a set of deceptive subtlety. Sadly, this competed directly with the island’’s own brilliant Bees. Muse’’s preposterous pomp-rock triumphed because of its sheer bravado, the Persil-white Matt Bellamy being second only to Jagger in the showmanship stakes. The plan was to blow the audience away, and it worked. Sunday was a delightful mish-mash of contrasts. Country Joe followed by Melanie C, anyone? The distressingly bland James Morrison caused mass dozing, but more exciting was cheery Scotsman Paolo Nutini, with his sideways approach, cool image, daft demeanour and willingness to rock. The frantic Fratellis seem to be in a career cul-de-sac like the similar (but better) Supergrass. Keane’’s huge singalongs and undeniable quality made them a perfect warm-up for the rock and roll maelstrom that was to follow (see this page). Wonderful music, great organisation, nice environment; this was one damn good festival.

End Of The Road Festival

Dorset, England

14 – 16 September 2007

Voted Best New Festival of 2006, this year’’s End Of The Road reaped the reward with a hugely increased audience and fine weather conditions. Being entirely about music, there are no big stars or egos, as artists jam with each other and pop up for impromptu sessions all over the place. The setting, in the beautiful Larmer Tree Gardens, is surely one of the loveliest festival sites in the world, and the line-up of mainly Americana, indie and folk artists was adventurous and clever. The most exciting things about EOTR this year were the unexpected surprises. Here are some of the highlights: Jeffrey Lewis’’ multi-media show featured wall-to-wall covers of songs by Crass. Dawn Landes concluded her set with a joyful duet with the unbilled Josh Ritter. The good-natured genuineness of blues plucker Charlie Parr succeeded in trumping the less subtle excursions of flavour-of-the-moment Seasick Steve. On a noisier note, the three-piece Charlie Bronson Outfit almost equalled the mad eclecticism of Yo La Tengo, who rampaged between the quietly melodic and the sonically insane. Howe Gelb curated the first day, guesting with every artist he presented, including the crazy but sensational Albini-prouced Scout Niblett, PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish and the magnificently atmospheric Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, arguably the best band of the weekend. Howe Gelb’’s own set on the main stage featured gorgeous lounge piano excursions. The grooviest, most danceable band of the festival was undoubtedly the Isle of Wight’’s Bees, whilst new discoveries included My Brightest Diamond, a Drugstore for the 21st century, the Flaming Lips-lite of Sweden’s I’’m From Barcelona (beaten in the quirkiness stakes by Misty’’s Big Adventure), the Proclaimers-like harmony anthems of King Creosote and the ethereal beauty of Midlake, all the way from Denton, Texas. That’’s just for starters, and all of them put the bigger names like Super Furry Animals and British Sea Power, both of whom seemed to be over-egging the “professionalism”, in the shade. EOTR 2007 was a non-stop feast of music with no pretensions and no airs or graces. What a privilege to have been there.

Richard Thompson Band

The Brook, Southampton

9 / 8 / 07

“”What a band!” enthuses Richard Thompson at the end of the first song. “”What? A band?”” adds double-bassist Danny Thompson, sardonically. Yes, it’’s rare for RT to tour with a band nowadays, so this sold-out performance was a thrilling way for the Brook to announce that it’’s back in business. All the real and would-be guitarists in the audience were in ecstasy, and it’s true that there can’’t be a guitar player in the world to match Thompson today, playing all those extraordinary sequences of notes which shouldn’’t work, yet are somehow perfect. The emphasis was very much on the new album “Sweet Warrior”, standouts being the Iraq war song “Daddy’’s Gonna Kill Me” and the less serious but equally engaging “Too Late To Come Fishing”. There’’s something for fans of all aspects of Thomson’s career, from the acoustic whimsy of “Al Bowlly’’s In Heaven” to perennial favourite “Vincent Black Lightening 1952”, but he’’s always at his best on the twisted electric guitar ballads like “I Still Dream”. The evening climaxed with the irresistible sing-along of “Tear Stained Letter” which turned into a Pete Zorn saxophone wig-out. Thompson is a national treasure and never lets us down.

Joseph Arthur

Talking Heads, Southampton

22 November 2007

Panicking about a PA buzz and adding a six-song encore are all part of the show for Joseph Arthur, whose live performances go on sale in CD form at the end of each gig. A DVD might have been a better idea on this tour though, as his band consists largely of enthusiastic supermodel rock chicks (one of them pricelessly called Sybil), who contrast dramatically with the downbeat, greasy-haired, trilby-hatted image of the man himself. Looking like a younger Richard Ashcroft and sounding like a mixture of Jesse Malin and David Gray, Arthur’’s voice is certainly striking, even if the lyrics and some of the song structures are disturbingly AOR in style. The most enjoyable moments, apart from the Stonesy “Diamond Ring” and “Let’s Just Be”, were his solo acoustic efforts and when, for a momentary relief from the onslaught of echo and extended codas, he handed over the vocals to guitarist Kraig Jarret Johnson. The response to the show from the assembled Arthur fans was surprisingly muted, almost as if the intended spirit hadn’’t made the journey from stage to audience in the way his solo performances can.

Andy Burrows

Union Chapel, London

28 May 2008

Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows’’ charming new charity album “The Colour Of My Dreams” is a charity record in aid of children’’s hospice Naomi House. The full-scale launch of this initially low-key idea came out of left field, elevating Johnny Borrell’’s co-writer to a pre-eminent position, yet it is typical that the project is altruistic, self-effacing and unpretentious. It’’s a measure of Andy’’s popularity among his peers that the Union Chapel’’s stage was occupied by the likes of Fyfe Dangerfield (Guillemots), Dom Howard (Muse), Tom Smith (Editors) and the Bluetones’’ Mark Morris, whilst the hot dogs were served by Jamie Oliver. Harmonizing with each of the guests, Andy’’s songs came across as concise vignettes with little to do with rock and roll and everything to do with empathy and humanity. He displayed unexpected guitar skills and a voice which makes comparisons with the late Elliott Smith not as unlikely as they may seem. In the “secret” Razorlight finale, even the unfairly maligned Johnny Borrell seemed perfectly content to be playing second fiddle to his mate (and the raffle). In short, a magic evening.

Johnny Flynn

Railway Inn, Winchester

13 / 5 / 08

Frank Turner, Andy Burrows and now Johnny Flynn: Respectable young gentlemen from Winchester are the cool new thing; – who would have thought it? Whoever decided to invest in the young charmer with the folksy vibe, the Prince William good looks and the already faithful following has made a wise move. The age of the multi-instrumentalist is back (Johnny displays skills in guitar, banjo, mandolin, violin and some pretty spectacular trumpet, while sister Lillie looks after flute). Johnny’’s songs are wry and lyrically unconventional and he has a pleasingly un-showbiz manner, the only current problem being an over-busy drummer turning almost every song into a shuffle. When he moves to keyboards and the cellist tackles the drums (are you following this?), more possibilities immediately open up. If you thought “new folk” was a passing fad, the imminent success of Johnny will extend its currency.

Hop Farm Festival


5 / 7 / 08

Only Rufus Wainwright singing Leonard Cohen’’s “Halleluja” could make you feel warm and cosy during a monsoon in Kent. My Morning Jacket’’s silken amalgamation of Crosby, Stills and Nash with Lynryd Skynryd was well up to following Rufus, and ideal for this audience. Jim James finished the show as a demented, caped falsetto vampire. Flatteringly introduced by Steve Lamacq as “a national institution”, Supergrass (who, like everyone else, sacrificed much of their sound to the wind) were their usual selves: tuneful but unexciting. By this time, a serious chill was setting in, so the cockle-warming rock and roll of the ever-reliable Primal Scream was spot-on. They may be old-school but they’ll be cool forever. Uniquely brilliant and worshipped by all, Neil Young’’s lengthy set included a pleasing number of favourites like “Needle and the Damage Done” and “Heart of Gold”. One moment, he’’s wrenching out astonishing guitar effects, the next he’’s sitting at a pipe organ like a cross between Rick Wakeman and the local parish organist. The jaw-dropping climax consisted of a 25 minute version of “No Hidden Path” with an endless coda that you genuinely didn’’t want to stop, followed by a truly mind-blowing take on the Beatles’’ “A Day In The Life”. Apart from the car parking fiasco (organisational incompetence, basically), this was a great day out.

White Denim / Micah P. Hinson

Borderline, London


In this battle of the Texan titans, it was a points victory for the self-effacing flat-capped romantic over the sonic bully-boys. White Denim certainly are impressive, incredible virtuosos rather wasting their talents on screamed rifferama with few hints of a tune. Guitarist and singer James Patralli is obsessed with wah-wah and double-tracking, making the overall effect a cross between the Jesus and Mary Chain, speeded-up Explosions In The Sky and Motorhead. At the end, you felt satisfied with the short set and generally bludgeoned into submission. The solo Micah, on the other hand, apologized for sounding like Simon and Garfunkel compared to the lush instrumental depth of his “Micah P Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra” album, but he still held the room spellbound with his quietly emotional songs, sparse yet still full of resonance. It was ironic that, afterwards, his was the performance you remembered.


Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth


It seems like no time since Ash were pipsqueak upstart sixth-formers, yet already their audience consists of paunchy middle-aged blokes like me. They can still innovate though, with their schedule of 26 singles in a year. New songs like “Space Shot”, “True Love 1980” and “Return Of White Rabbit” cleverly spruce up the Ash sound without straying too fear from the traditional template, which is basically just a fine way with a tune. You realize what an amazing back catalogue they have when they can launch their set with the killer double whammy of “Walking Barefoot” and “Girl From Mars”, with Tim Wheeler still looking like a teenager and lanky bassist Mark Hamilton, despite illness, doing his admirable double-jointed stick insect impersonation. Masters of the singalong anthem, songs like “Oh Yeah” and “Shining Light” mark Ash down as the ultimate summer band.

Juliette Lewis

Talking Heads, Southampton, UK

19 / 5 / 09

Five dates into a year-long world tour and Juliette Lewis is already looking the worse for wear, not to mention profoundly scary. The disappointing truth is that she doesn’’t sing very well. The last person to perform so consistently flat was Louise Wener of Sleeper, although Louise wouldn’’t even have attempted Juliette’’s Janis Joplin-style blueswailing on “Hard Lovin’’ Woman”. She still puts on an entertaining show, though. With a new band (the New Romantiques) which wouldn’t look or sound out of place in your local pub, she has audience empathy in abundance, leaping into the crowd as often as possible, removing and replacing sunglasses and sparkly veil, leering suggestively and sweating like a waterfall. Featuring a raft of not very tuneful new songs from the Terra Incognita album, it certainly is rock and roll, and the sardine-like crowd does indeed love it.

White Denim

Talking Heads, Southampton

5 / 7 / 09

A pleasingly young audience belied a distinct seventies vibe on this evening, heads shaking and dandruff cascading. Some of us old lags were trying to find a reference point for a noodling power guitar trio like White Denim. Taste? Similar energy but more bluesy. Groundhogs? Similar attitude but a bit more psychedelic. Spirit? That’s more like it. In the figure of bandana-ed guitarist James Petralli there’s even a hint of Randy California. A White Denim show consists of three “medleys”, in which songs from their albums “Workout Holiday” and “Fits” merge into each other in a bewildering series of time signature changes which keep the head shakers on their toes. In great jazz tradition, there’’s strict discipline in the arrangements, leaving room for improvisation between musicians who are impressively attuned to each other. Ugly Betty bassist Steve Terebecki and elaborate drummer Joshua Block are a powerhouse rhythm section very much in the mould of Bruce and Baker, while Petralli yelps enthusiastically in a mix of soul and garage styles. Sounds unlikely? Well, this band sure is different and it makes for exciting viewing and listening. Whether the general public will become so enthused remains to be seen.

Joe Jackson

Shepherds Bush Empire

2 / 3/ 08

Three songs in, the incongruous sound of “Chinatown” with completely inaudible piano and bass led to fears of the show being slaughtered by the soundman. Luckily Jackson (together with the faithful and fantastic rhythm section of Dave Houghton and Graham Maby) remains one of the most thrilling live performers anywhere in the world. His persona – a strange mixture of lanky, lugubrious, serious and convivial – draws in the crowd and the songs are allowed to blossom in the sparse trio setting. Irresistible oldies like the cold war commentary of “The Obvious Song” and “Stranger Than Fiction” (with the brilliant line”“love shows God has a sense of humour”) mingle comfortably with a selection from the new album “Rain”, of which the finest track is the first, “Invisible Man”. An inspired choice of covers (“Knowing Me Knowing You” – – really – – and “Scary Monsters – – honestly), plus the obligatory climax of “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and the tear-jerking “Slow Song” insured that victory was indeed grasped from the jaws of disaster.

Jason Lytle

Islington Academy

28 / 5 / 09

What a relief it is for Grandaddy followers that Jason Lytle sounds exactly like his ex-band. He’’s on record as saying he was uncomfortable with the sheen of professionalism forced on them by major label status, but with his current band of downbeats, it’s right back to the seat-of-the-pants glory days of early Grandaddy. The only slick item on show was the lengthy and dramatic intro tape, leading into probably one of the lowest-key shows this venue has ever seen. Shoulders hunched, with head down and obscured by the omnipresent cap, Lytle crouches stage right, seemingly joined at the hip with main cohort Rusty Miller. It’s hard to equate the figure with glorious songs like “Yours Truly The Commuter” and “Brand New Sun”, eccentrically glittering gems from his new album. What with the between song backing-track mayhem, the gear all held together with pink gaffa tape, it took a good kicking administered to a recalcitrant synth to finally allow them to splutter into their rapturously-received original greatest hit “AM 180”. Thank goodness there are still a few true rock and roll characters about.

South By South West Festival

Austin, Texas

18 – 22 March 2009

Each year you think sxsw can’t get any better and each year it confounds you. Where else could you wander in the sunshine between the hillbilly folk of Justin Townes Earle and the studded leather jumpsuits of Hot Leg, Justin Hawkins’’ post-Darkness parody? If you wanted, you could queue for Metallica or Kanye West, but as usual, the most fun was to be had stumbling on unannounced gems on the fringes. Here you could find the two drummers of a crazed And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead being outgunned by the five bass guitars of Shout Out Out Out Out in the multiple instrument stakes, or the pomp of the Decemberists being outclassed by the sublime shoegazing of Shearwater. Ah, Shearwater. They made me fear the alcohol had finally taken too much of a toll on me. Having heard their late-night performance at the plushy Hilton Garden Inn, I walked the next morning the hour and a half to the Mean Eyed Cat, to find them in the middle of performing the same (very good) show to a different audience. Talk about Groundhog Day. RC readers are well aware of Toronto’’s Six Shooter Records and their artists. Equally legendary is the Tequila-drenched annual afternoon hootenanny they host at Headhunter’s Club, where their artists, hung-over but still buzzing from their label showcase the night before, play short sets of their favourite songs. The likes of Luke Doucet, Melissa McClelland and NQ Arbuckle spread the fun around. The previous evening, Elliott Brood had issued the audience with baking trays and wooden spoons, creating percussion mayhem. Other oddities were the surreal experience of Bauhaus goth hero Pete Murphy, complete with uncool bald patch and eccentric speechmaking. In a similar vein, the Blue Aeroplanes’’ Gerard Langley was reading his lyrics from a printed crib-sheet, much like a politician with an autocue. Portland’’s Peter Broderick is the first virtuoso of the saw since Mercury Rev’’s Jonathan Donahue. And of course, there were the inevitable disappointments. I walked miles to catch current vogue bands The Soft Pack, Black Lips and Delta Spirit, and all of them were nondescript. Selecting highlights is tough, but here goes. Best new discovery: Copenhagen’’s Asteroids Galaxy Tour, who have charm, beauty, cool pop songs and funky horns. Most exciting moment: nearly being asphyxiated in the moshpit for a gloriously decadent Primal Scream in a venue the size of a matchbox. Most moving music: A massively hung-over Jason Lytle making his post-Grandaddy comeback at the Mohawk Patio at Saturday lunchtime. Best show: A knockout blow by PJ Harvey and John Parish, completely flattening the capacity crowd at Stubbs, previously baffled by a washed-up Razorlight. Now surely sxsw 2010 can’t get any better?

The Asteroids Galaxy Tour

Luminaire, London

15 / 5 / 09

The likes of Little Boots and Lady Ga Ga had better watch out, because in the pulchritude stakes, they are about to be obliterated by the extraordinary Mette Lindberg. Copenhagen’’s finest ever band have the lot: funky horns providing Stax riffs, some pleasingly catchy and irresistibly danceable songs and the knockout blow of a riveting visual and vocal presence. Mette can warble Bjork-like but doesn’’t over-do it, instead sweetly avoiding Mariah Carey-style woah woahs in favout of brief and punchy ohs and heys. It’’s unique and totally charming. Nominally a duo of Mette and Lars Iversen, live, the band is a nicely analogue six-piece collective with an eccentric dress sense. Among a treasure trove of songs, “Push The Envelope” and the iPod commercial, “Around The Bend” are that rare phenomenon, tunes that you go home singing after just one hearing. This Tour truly is heading for the stars.

PJ Harvey and John Parish

Bridport Arts Centre

12 / 3 / 09

Among family and friends in this quaint converted chapel is the traditional point of departure for all PJ Harvey world tours. Addressing the wardrobe issues caused by her belted shroud with good humour, Polly was on sparkling form, safely surrounded by some of the world’s most outstanding musicians. Sporting more trilbies and mafia suits than a Leonard Cohen convention, John Parish and his colleagues helped Polly to take flight on almost all the new album and, pleasingly, a good chunk of 1996’’s Dance Hall At Louse Point as well. Extraordinary variety was the keynote, from the gentle falsetto of “Leaving California” to the expletive-laden lunacy of “A Woman A Man Walked By” and the genuinely barking “Pig Will Not” (yes, she barks). Particularly exciting was the revival of fantastic older songs like the lugubrious “Rope Bridge Crossing” (one of this duo’’s finest hours) and “Circles Around The Sun”, but most thrilling of all was the confirmation that music of this outstanding quality can still command a large and enthusiastic audience. A satisfying triumph all round.

Chuck Prophet

The Miner’s Arms, Lydney

9 / 8 / 09

Skirting round the Hell’s Angels and into the skittle alley of this Forest of Dean pub, Chuck had caused consternation by demanding the removal of chairs from the venue. A half-and-half compromise having been reached, the solo Chuck hit the stage for a warm evening of conviviality which included a Q and A session (of which the most hilarious section was a convoluted answer to the question “”Why are you here?””). Adapting the rockers from his new “Let Freedom Ring” album to an acoustic environment proved no problem for a virtuoso like Chuck, with simple beauties such as the title track and “Sonny Liston’’s Blues” nestling comfortably alongside back catalogue classics like “You Did” and “Balinese Dancer”. An audience made up of keen fans who had travelled and locals who had never heard of him warmed to a man whose career looks as if it is about to hit a very belated high. He’’ll be back in the UK with his band in the Autumn, but for now, this was a rare and treasured cameo.

Bad Company

Brighton Centre

10 April 2010

View: Centre of the Centre

Most of us have the odd school reunion but with Mott and Bad Company, Mick Ralphs has had two of the highest profile reunions imaginable in the space of six months. Chipper and cheerful, he can’’t quite match the extraordinarily youthful Paul Rodgers in the svelteness stakes, but the chops are still there, aided by Howard Leese of Heart, who fleshes out the harmonies so that arguably this Bad Co is better then the original. The main secret of the power lies with drummer Simon Kirke, still as much of an object lesson in economy and power as when he was blasting out “Fire And Water” with Free forty years ago. It takes confidence to open with your greatest hit, and when the heartbeat intro tape segued into “Can’’t Get Enough” and the neon logo flashed up, the whole place jumped into action and didn’’t let up for an hour and ten minutes of pretty much solid gold. Whether it was ballads like “Seagull” or classics like “Ready For Love”, Rodgers’’ voice and style have not declined in any way. “We love you Paul”, they still shout, and no wonder.


Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth

  1. 6. 10

View: Crammed in the crowd

This was an evening for serious music lovers. With nary a rock pose in sight, these musicians are all about conveying songs and atmosphere. John Grant of the Czars performed his lyrically intense torch songs to rapt attention (standout being “The Queen Of Denmark”), before the intellectual Texans Midlake charmed the audience with ninety minutes gleaned almost entirely from their last two albums “The Trials Of Van Occupanther” and “The Courage Of Others”. Citing such impeccable influences as early Fairport Convention, Grandaddy and Richard Thompson (to which could be added seventies proggers Camel and Caravan, each equally adept at integrating the sound of the flute), Midlake never patronize their audience. A seven piece band playing essentially quiet music in a loud environment is always going to be a challenge, but Midlake, expressing undying love for Pompey, pulled it off in charmingly understated manner. When will Bella Union go wrong?

Eastleigh Music Festival

Leigh Park Eastleigh

10 – 11/ 7 / 10

The sun shone on Eastleigh’’s two-day music festival at Leigh Park. Friday’’s “Folk Night” featured, for all but the most devout folkies, a slight surfeit of fiddles and squeeze boxes. The likes of Cara Dillon (great when unaccompanied) and Lau (great when slow and majestic) too often allowed things to lapse with the dreaded words “”Now for some jigs and reels””. Saturday daytime featured a host of local bands playing for free. The quality inevitably varied but of particular note were Winchester’’s flamboyant Scarlet Soho and the casual excellence of Our Lost Infantry, a real find from Aldershot. The evening showcase highlighted the super-precision suites of Field Music. The music of the multi-instrumentalist Brewis brothers is ultra-cerebral but manages not to be too clever for its own good. As for Badly Drawn Boy, the disappointment was painful. Accompanied by a band made up of road crew and complete with cheesy drum machine and lyric crib sheet, he sought to blame his hapless performance on the sound crew (who had been impeccable all weekend). Badly Performing Boy, more like. Nothing, however, should take away from the impeccable organization of this hugely enjoyable event, which continued throughout the joyous Mela on the Sunday.


Railway Inn, Winchester

August 1, 2010

View: Nearly suffocating

For a band whose main antecedents are Spirit Of Eden-era Talk Talk, i.e. deadly serious and willfully uncommercial, Austin’’s Shearwater have some enthusiastic and energetic supporters. The band take the most enjoyable elements of prog, namely multiple time changes and incessant swopping of obscure instruments, but leave out the annoying noodling bits. Any band whose singer has a degree in ornithology and whose drummer is an Axl Rose lookalike called Thor, who doubles on oboe, can’’t fail to be interesting. Jonathan Meiburg is the unlikeliest of rock stars but his startling voice range generates enormous intensity. The audience, already stunned (in a nice way) by having German improvisational classical pianist Nils Frahm as support act, vascillated between enthusiastic idiot dancing on songs such as Hidden Lakes and rapt attention during the glockenspiel battle between Thor and bassist Kim Burke on Corridors, both from their latest pastoral epic The Golden Archipelago. It all sounds very unlikely but it adds up to a quite thrilling musical experience.