Robert Ford takes to the stage…….over and over again

The toilets smell of damp mops. The building is Tardis like. The beer is in plastic glasses……..

Sunday afternoon in Hull had proved entertaining, a psycho-geographical ramble around the old town with it’s beautiful pubs, and abandoned venues where Pink Floyd etc etc played. A maze of a journey takes us from one pub to another. The early days of October are blessed with no rain and warm sunlight, things feel good. But still there are reminders of the grim impact of Tory rule, even in the European city of culture there are rough sleepers. Not as many as Manchester but numbers aren’t the issue, the fact there are people on the streets damns, once again,  the current administration.

The rock and roll moment is when we leave the Travelodge and are making our way to Hull old town when we spot Clare and Georgio behind Debenhams taking in the afternoon air. A brief conversation and see you later…….

Roll back two days. Dave, Clare and Georgio have been in Europe, with Patrizia occasional playing bass. I wonder how Levenshulme will feel to them after Spain/France. My journey from Eccles is aided by the new Ron S. Peno album which Cam Butler had sent earlier in the week, it’s not Died Pretty, but it’s pretty damn good. Add to that the new one from Go Go Sapien which makes me happy and brings a broad grin to my face with its quirky pop moves.  Somehow Aussie music feels much more legitimate than what we get fed by the so-called mainstream in the old country.

Fred’s Ale House is an excellent venue for this type of thing. A few days earlier SD and I had seen three excellent sets from Vocal Harum, CP Lee, and Barry “The Fish” Melton”.   I arrive early and wait for the bands to a load-in.  SD is at a wedding in Stoke so Victoria is helping out on the door. Dave, Clare, Malcolm and Georgio arrive and we catch up with a chat about cricket, Aussie music, and the aforementioned Mr Melton.  As the drum kit is assembled Dave strums a few chords on his acoustic,  I guess it’s “Mind Full Of Leather” from “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”, but it turns out it’s one of Malcolm’s songs. They have had two days rehearsals in Edinburgh and the soundcheck sounds tight. Time for a pizza before the proceedings commence.

An almost sold out crowd is treated to the raw enthusiasm of Uke Punk, the rebirth of Poppycock with a new line-up, and Graney & Moore’s pop-up band featuring Malcolm Ross on guitar and lap steel and Georgio Valentino on bass.  Bob is up from Northampton, Brad is down from the foothills of Ben Nevis, and for once I am running a gig which is nearly sold out. As it is with these things a combination of running the door and people wanting to “chat” to me means I don’t really get to see the bands properly but it sounds good to me when I do get a chance to listen.

Dave and Clare treat us to mixture of old and new with a good selection of songs from “Let’s Get Tight” and a respectable and well chosen series of classics from the back catalogue. Stand outs are a remarkable coupling of “Twilight of the Villain” and “Heroic Blues” which is Dave at his best, unwrapping his career before our eyes. The absolute highlight is a remarkable version of “Robert Ford” which is blessed by Clare’s sublime drumming and deft lap steel from Malcolm.  Even the usually hard to please Mr Moss is impressed.  An impromptu tongue in cheek couple of verses of “Show-business” is an added bonus in a busy set. We get another bonus of two of Malcolm’s songs – “Happy Boy” from the album of the same name, and “My Avenger” which I know from the “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” compilation. Both are excellent. Things conclude with a great version of  “Rock and Roll is where I hide” and punters amble out of the room with big smiles. The other Bob treats me to pint after the gig.

Saturday is mostly spent in the Marble Arch catching up with Bob and Sheila. Arrangements are made for the trip over to Hull and some fine ales are quaffed. Sunday sees a lunch time rendezvous in the Port Street Ale House which has some excellent beer on draft and is a loosener for the two hour journey. On a crowded train we decamp to first class and pay the extra as standing all the way to Hull is not recommended. A good bulk of the journey is taken up with a conversation about Alan Moore’s “Jerusalem” which Bob forensically dissects and of which I make a mental note to purchase once I return home.

The Travelodge on Pryme Street in Hull is modern and well appointed and excellent value for money. I contact Dave Hammond and we agree to meet in The George but as luck would have it we run into him and a couple of friends en route. The aforementioned tour of the city is both entertaining and informative.

Eventually we arrive at O’Rileys, the beer is basic so we opt for Guinness.  As mentioned at the start what appears to a detached house on the Beverley Road, from the outside, turns out to be much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The venue has a more “rock and roll” feel to it that Freds, not as big a crowd as Friday  but a very enthusiastic one. Great sound and impressive stage lighting is countered by a distressed floor and a peculiar odour in the toilets. The back of the venue is a gym with a boxing ring and a series of punch bags.

Loudhailer Electric Company kick off proceedings with their enthusiastic brand of rock into folk with Lou-Duffy Howard commanding the stage with her boundless energy and every-present smile.  They play some new songs and take an interesting sideways step into Talking Heads ’77 territory with a funky number. Stand-outs are a strident “Gypsey Race” and an epic closer with “Night Heron” with some excellent violin/guitar interplay.  Lou gives me a copy of the “Cursus” album.

 

I’m still getting to grips with the Canon Ixus I acquired for gigs like this but I manage to capture a few reasonable shots and a healthy handful of videos which I will eventually load up to You Tube. It’s no SLR but it’s better than lugging a bigger camera around when out and about.

I settle stage right, and aim to absorb uninterrupted what I missed on Friday. It’s exceptional.  The two Dr Alimantado references in the Graney/Moore canon make their way into the set. Twilight of a Villain and Heroic Blues are stunning, as they were on Friday.  Wolverine is a signature tune and I never tire of hearing it.  Malcolm plays “As Good As It Gets from the “Low Miffs” album which fits perfectly in with the Graney vibe and also has that unmistakable Edinburgh/Edwyn feel in its’ DNA.  The Godfrey Brothers are feted as Dave introduces a remarkable “A Boy Called Epic”. The set runs for nearly 90 minutes (Grateful Dead length Dave jokes at one point). The crowd loves it. Star Trek is mentioned by Lou in the LEC set (Voyager) and Dave in their set (TOS).  All of this is so effortless, so enjoyable, people in the crowd say “why haven’t we heard of this music before?”.

Monday is a taken up with a tour of some of the tourist bits of Hull, a strange vegetarian breakfast in the station cafe (olives and cucumbers mixed with beans, hash browns and and mushrooms oddly) and then a more comfortable ride back to Manchester. Bob will see it all again in London on Wednesday and Thursday, I am too busy with record label business unfortunately.

Over the two days the music played

Clinging To The Coast
Everything Was Legendary With Robert
A Boy Named Epic
Twilight Of a Villain
Heroic Blues
Happy Boy (Malcolm Ross)
You Need A Kleek Klook
All Our Friends Were Stars
Robert Ford On The Stage
My Avenger (Malcolm Ross)
We Need A Champion
Night Of The Wolverine
How Long Does The Raunch?
I Been Trendy
How Do You Get Out Of London
As Good As It Gets (Malcolm Ross)
Rock `n` Roll Is Where I Hide

As with 2016 Dave and Clare have in all likely-hood nabbed gig of the year…… hopefully they will be back again.

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Sic Transit Gloria Hamsters

Sunday

Not a day for normally venturing out into the world of rock and roll but it’s Ian Keith Moss’s 60th birthday party and he has put a musical spectacular on in Ashton under Lyne  by way of celebration so we can’t really miss this one can we?

I meet SD in the Eccles Cross for a “loosener” and then we hop on the tram. Fortunately the Metrolink system takes us more or less door to door. It’s a 55 minute journey so it gives me and Mr Doyle time to catch up on things and do some forward planning for future gigs.  There’s also a chance to look out at the surrounding areas. I recommend people take the Ashton line as it’s a good psycho- political-geographical journey which emphasises the embourgeiosement of  Manchester city centre and juxtaposes it with the clear lack of investment in the doughnut around the heart of the metropolis. Once you have sailed past the chrome and glass of the core and the  glittering spires of the “emptyhad” complex you begin to see the stark reality of life in the suburban towns. It’s like stepping back 40 years to boarded up shops, tired streets and grim vistas. The only glimpse that we are in 2017 is the shiny metrolink stops/transport interchanges and the occasional Aldi (substitute cheap supermarket chain of your choice).

The tram stop is about 10 minutes away from the venue and we scout out potential eating areas on the way. The venue is The Witchwood, a concert room next to a pub, that has seen many a band over the years but at the moment, looking at the posters inside, seems to cater for any number of tribute bands, a microcosm for the state of the music scene perhaps?

There is an air of mild panic in the air when we arrive. Bands have not turned up for soundchecks and it eventually turns out that tAngerine cAt have broken down in Wales so will not be able to make the gig. I settle on small bottles of Budweiser for the afternoon as it’s going to be a long gig with many bands.

Matters commence with a rare appearance of 50% of the Prick Jaggers with Patriq accompanied on this occasion by the birthday boy in an exemplary performance of the legendary “Lou Reeds Supper Club”.

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The nearly Prick Jaggers -Picture by Victoria Egan

Quick phone calls have facilitated a substitute for the absent tAngerine cAt and Dylan Cosmic Blue arrives to provide a four song set of some covers and a couple of his own tunes. He gives an assured performance and warrants further investigation at some future point.

The end of the Hamsters as a live entity is built around four songs – the band is represented by Mr Moss, Mr Williams, and Mr Rowlinson with the redoutable Mr Peak filling in on drums.  They have had one rehearsal but they still manage to perform a brand new song (well a reworking of John Joanne) and conclude with the appropriate “Stupid Songs”. I feel a slight tinge of sadness that it is all over and head to the bar for some more Dr Budweisers patent laughing medicine. And so passes the glory that was the Hamsters! We will never see their like again.

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Mr Doyle photobombs the Hamsters – Photo by Victoria Egan

The ex-Fall band members spotting game is commenced and we reach a reasonable score of three with Ms Baines, Ms Adamson and Mr Archer in the house. Perhaps more notable is that three of the four horsemen of the radio apocalypse are in the building with the fourth member due shortly.  Poppycock cannot play for reasons far to complicated to go into so their slot is taken by poetry readings from Una Baines and Louise Woodcont. Next up we have the rather marvellous Factory Acts who coincidentally played a similar gig at the Bank Top Tavern on Ian’s Birthday a few years back. They have come on in leaps and bounds since then of course. Of particular importance is Susan’s growing stage confidence with her hand gestures and delivery adding something new and exciting to the mix. The stunning “AWG” is delivered with some venom and the closing “Leave The World To Us” has chart hit written all over it, if only the music industry had any common sense. One of the best, if not the best, Salford based band at the moment.

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Factory Acts – Photo by Victoria Egan

Back out to the beer garden for more “Bud” and a growing sense that I need to have something to eat before the blood alcohol levels get too excessive. So it’s an executive decision to miss part of the Four Candles set while I grab a rather delicious mushroom pizza from a local takeaway. I catch the opening “Horse”, I miss “Lenny Bruce”  and more, while I’m getting the pizza, but i’m back for the exceptional “I Hate Basket Weaving”.  I’ve seen them before, and I will definitely see them again, so it’s not a great wrench having missed a portion of the show. They are Ian’s best band to date and they get better and better. One punter opines “I don’t normally like prog rock but I like this….” which makes me chuckle , they certainly transcend genres and deliver something that the scene in Greater Mancunia needs which is something new and different.

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Four Candles – Photo by Victoria Egan

More beer – fortunately now being absorbed by the pizza, and I settle myself at the back of the room near the sound desk as my tired old legs are feeling their age. I haven’t seen Ill for some time and certainly not since they have brought Tamsin Middleton into their ranks. The perfect band to end the day, a few keyboard problems slightly disturb the flow, but a stellar performance was delivered with stunning rhythms from Whitney and Fiona being the stand out part of the Ill experience. Tamsin’s guitar adds a new edge to the sound as the power through an excellent set with singles “Space Dick” and “Kremlin” whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Another band that delivers a unique sound, Manchester should be rightly proud of what it has to offer at the moment in terms of musical diversity.

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Tamsin and Whitney of Ill – Photo by Matt Davies

And so it’s all over by 8pm. A wonderful days music and a more than perfect way to celebrate the milestone birthday of one of the key, but unsung, figures in the musical firmament of this metropolis.

Thanks to the fourth horseman for the lift home.

These drums and these guitars…..

A warm Wednesday evening in Manchester.

The Wetherspoons at Piccadilly is full of interesting people. Standing at the bar with a pint of Abbot Ale, waiting for SD to arrive on the bus from Stockport, you can watch the hustle and bustle of the city commuters. We are off to see Oh Sees at Manchester Academy.

We had planned to go to Bundobast for one their excellent meals but there is a 35 minute waiting time so we hop a cab to Portland Street and indulge in some tasty Caribbean food instead, a bottle of Shiraz helps the mushroom and goats cheese burger go down. Another cab down to the Academy ,which is busy with gig goers, we score a couple of tickets from an affable tout who advises us it’s £4 cheaper than on the door. The band aren’t on until 9:30 and we don’t like the sound of the support so we wander over to a busy Kro-Bar for some Erdingers and chat about all things music as we sit on the stone wall outside. It’s years since i’ve been down to this end of town but it has not changed much, busy with students and somehow detached from the rest of the city, an academic bubble perhaps.

Start time approaches and we amble over to the Academy. Security searches are de rigeur these days, better to be safe than sorry. The place is packed and our timing is perfect as the band are just starting. We make our way to the bar as Dwyer and co launch into their trademark garage rock riffing. I am at stage right and the sound is weighted towards bass and the twin drums. Dwyers vocals and guitar are a little indistinct in the mix but it doesn’t matter that much in the overall scheme of things.

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Photograph by Stephen Doyle

The latest line-up of (Thee) Oh Sees is probably their most potent to date. The two drum attack adds a massive boost to the bands sound, and with Tim Hellman’s sturdy bass playing Dwyer has the space to deliver a stellar performance. I’d familiarized myself with the bands sound that afternoon by listening to the recent  live album. From the first song onwards the band transform the music heard on that album into another place entirely.  What follows is close to an hour of dense riffage and percussive garage punk of the highest order.  Dwyer wears his guitar at chest level which looks odd in the context of the usual rock and roll tropes but which allows him to deliver some interesting moves and axe acrobatics. Towards the end of the gig the band are joined by a third drummer creating an immense wall of sound which has the crowd enthralled.

I’m not normally a fan of big room gigs, and the Academy is usually just that little too large for my tastes, however in this instance the band manage to deliver a club like atmosphere. A highly enjoyable evening and a very rewarding musical experience.

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Photograph by Stephen Doyle

New York Stories

I’ve been reacquainting myself with the prose of Paul Auster recently.  Always an obsession, I even named one of my musical projects after him, he is one of a handful of authors I can definitively say has had a major influence on me. His initial work centered around New York City, and his rich and complex prose always conjured up detailed images of that metropolis in my head. I’ve still not managed to pluck up the courage to read his latest 700+ page opus “4321” mind you.

Coincidentally, other Brooklyn connections also emerged recently, firstly with Jesse “Cannonball” Statman.  When over here for a gig in Salford he revealed he had shared the same apartment complex as Auster. Jesse’s performance at the Eagle, Salford, on April 8th,  had broadly smiling  punters using the word genius as they left the gig room. He wasn’t to everyone’s taste but for the majority of the audience the admiration for his performance was huge, with some of the best praise I have heard for gigs we have promoted. I’m also pleased he is allowing us to release more of his material soon on German Shepherd records. His set was a whirling dervish of words and a completely unique guitar style,  unconventional and mesmerising. Some people have compared him Daniel Johnston, and I can see that, but Jesse works at a much faster pace and his use of language is more complex, and conjures up literary comparisons like Auster, Thomas Pynchon and Bill Burroughs.

Check out his sizeable catalogue of work at http://www.cannonballstatman.bandcamp.com/

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Cannonball Statman (Photograph courtesy of John Montague)

The other Brookyln connection is a duo called Lusterlit. And they have literary association also. With their songs created for Bushwick Book Club,  whose founder, Susan Hwang and contributor and producer, Charlie Nieland, have joined forces to perform as a new, literature-inspired duo. Both vocalists and multi-instrumentalists, Charlie and Susan alternate lead vocals and harmonies while supporting each other on guitar, bass, synth, traditional Korean drum and accordion.  Charlie sent me their most recent release “List of Equipment” a couple of days back and I was  utterly blown away by the quality and richness of their songs. Inspired by authors  Cormac McCarthy, Julia Child, John Wyndham, and Johnathon Lethem, the five songs on the EP are mature musical explorations which immediately stand out as superior quality material in the context of the other music that gets sent my way on daily basis. Both artists are clearly hugely talented  and their song-craft and production is exceptional, offering atmospheric, cinematic, aural journeys. Both soulful and sexy, this is an EP you can listen to on repeat and uncover multiple levels of delight from. The duo says there is a hint of Polly Jean and Melbourne Nick in what they do, I’d venture that this music is as exciting to me as the first time I heard “Countdown To Ecstasy” – it’s that damn good. I commend it to you without reservation.

 

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Charlie and Susan – Photo by Lisa Barnstone

 

The duo also released two previous albums last year as “solo” offerings but Charlie advises that material is also part of the current  Lusterlit live experience. Both are also excellent song collections and, as a whole, the three releases combined are a fantastic introduction to some great music.

LINKS

https://www.facebook.com/lusterlit/
https://twitter.com/lusterlitnyc
https://www.instagram.com/lusterlit/
https://lusterlit.bandcamp.com/
https://soundcloud.com/lusterlit

Far to The Madding Crowd

It’s cold.

It’s the second gig in a week, a bit of a rarity for me.

It’s Saturday night. There’s three choices, The Speed of Sound album launch in Levenshulme, The Things EP launch in Manchester centre, or The Madding Crowd EP launch in Moston. We opt for the latter.

A Siberian chill has settled on Eccles, whenever I go out to gigs these days the weather conspires against me. A quick pint in the Albert Edward and then a long cab ride up to Moston. A place I haven’t ventured to in a good while. In a former life I spent hours wandering these streets, it seems a dim and distant memory. Things have changed with a new football stadium opposite the Miners Estate. The Estate looks the same as it did thirty five years ago and the Arts and Social Club is also something out of the last century, the faded decadence of a W.M.C. with punk posters on the wall, very old Manchester. There’s a good mixture of people here, old and young. They have Joseph Holts bitter at £2.50 a pint, a good price, but double the price of the pint in the Albert Edward. Not sure how that works.

The Sam Smith story has been told elsewhere on these pages. It’s been a convoluted last 12 months or so with the Franco Bandini persona being put away for a while. There was mention of The Parish Church Fire coming back but that didn’t quite emerge for this gig, so it’s Sam with piano, and acoustic guitar, playing stripped back and emotional songs. There’s a couple of Bandini songs, a few “& Company” numbers, and some new material. He reflects on Fidel’s passing by suggesting  possible Clash cover before the gig but demurs, instead he plays a brain flipping version of Islands in the Stream. He pours his heart and soul into the music, as he always does. This music deserves a wider audience, I’ve said that before, but it does. There’s a new found maturity and confidence about Sam tonight, but he needs to get more gigs, more exposure, perhaps he needs a band to really get the message across, but tonight he does it all on his own and he does it well. He ends with Born to Run. All in all most satisfying.

I’m not normally a big fan of live poetry but Genevieve L Walsh captures my attention with rapid delivery, a tumble of interesting words, maybe too many ideas and concepts for my beer addled brain to take in. But there are sections which really grab the attention, you smile and nod in encouragement with the message that is delivered. She’s funny, intelligent, biting and sometimes angry. It’s great stuff and provides the right sort of balance between Sam’s set and what is to follow.

I’ve not seen The Madding Crowd before. I am told before they start that they are great live. They are.  Ben Corry is an electric front man, he is a hyperactive mix of Iggy Stooge, Bowie and John Lydon. But I can’t hear the vocals. It’s either my dodgy ears or the sound engineer can’t cope with the dynamics of the band. It does eventually settle down but the first fifteen minutes or so is lost to me. Dominic Corry is as hyperactive as Ben, leaping on and off the stage, whirling like a dervish and ripping all sorts of sounds from his guitar. Claud Corry is a motionless figure for most of the night, sat on the floor, laying down a solid bass to the set. The revelation is Sav Patel who is one of the best drummers i’ve seen in a while with a whole selection of interesting tricks up his sleeve, one to watch out for in future I would suggest. The new EP forms the key parts of the set with the excellent “Sinking Low” being the stand out on the evening, Patel’s impressive stick work,  muscular guitar and Ben’s football chant vocal acrobatics morphing the basic blues of the song into something special. With a lengthy set of nigh on two hours the band give the crowd a comprehensive show including some of the more memorable moments from their back catalogue. A band to watch out for in the future.

I get a copy of the EP which will be featured on this weeks Aural Delights podcast.

It’s even colder outside but the heat generated by the gig keeps me warm until I get home.

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A Hard Rain Fell

Looking out of the window on Monday afternoon revealed torrential rain and gusts of wind.  Probably not the best weather to be venturing out into the darkening night. The headline band contact me and advise they are stuck in terrible traffic between Levenshulme and Salford and will be late.  Fortunately the journey from Eccles to Blackfriars is not so disadvantaged. The  67 bus arrives early and I get to the Eagle much sooner than I anticipated. By the time I get to the pub the band, Harry Howard and the NDE have arrived and are loading in. That’s the peculiar nature of the Greater Manchester traffic system – west-east is easy, south -north not so much. What took them two hours took me twenty minutes.

But first, the back story.

Some months back Dave Graney had contacted me, after his visit to Salford earlier in the year, to suggest that we might host Harry Howard and the NDE in a similar way, a gig and a Marc Riley session. We are getting quite good at this promotion thing now,  but we can’t make a habit of it mind you, so please don’t you bands out there think we can wave a magic wand and make these things happen all the time. With the assistance of Vicky Egan, who runs the excellent Roland S. Howard tribute page, Ian and I were able to get it all to come together. We had put on three bands for the Graney evening in the spring, but we decided to slim it down for Harry & co, a good move in hindsight, given the weather, as time was tight once everyone had settled in . We stayed with Poppycock as the support act, always reliable, always excellent.

Given the weather a huge turn out was not anticipated, especially for a Monday night, however fortunately there are enough hearty souls/Harry Howard fans to bring in a good sized audience.

Those who could not make it missed a stunning evening.

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Photograph by Johnathon Hargreaves

Poppycock have a slight pre-gig set back when Una’s keyboard starts emitting smoke, so a substitute is sourced. There’s always a gremlin hanging around in the ether to make life more stressful. Notwithstanding that the bands start only 30 minutes late. Poppycock get better each time I see them. Their well established repertoire mixes garage rock, folk, Dylan, and post punk into a package which brings new fans with every gig. The twin vocal line-up of Rose Niland and Anne-Marie Crowley is exceptional.  I’m familiar with the tunes and I recognise a marked improvement. Heather, Nicki, Stuart, Lucy and Una weave a musical tapestry which marks them out as the best live band in Manchester at the moment. At times the sound they produce is incandescent.

The only minor niggle about the excellent Eagle as a venue is that there is not a plethora of places nearby to get food so the NDE ring out for pizza which arrives just in time for the band to have something to eat before playing.

The NDE are excellent. They play the first half of the new album “Sleepless Girls” for the opening section of the set.  Dave Graney and Clare Moore couldn’t make this tour so These Immortal Souls alumni Craig Williamson and Chris Hughes have been drafted in. The new line-up has only  had a couple of lengthy rehearsals at Seed Studios in south Manchester and the lack of time to practice means there are a few minor mis-steps during the set which are treated with friendly self-deprecation and do not spoil the overall enjoyment. A couple of excellent tracks from the debut album “Sick Sick Sick” and “The Old Man Blues” demonstrate the depth of the NDE song book. The other half of the current album forms the bulk of the rest of the set, a notable exception being a fitting tribute to Vicky Egan with a reading of The Birthday Party’s The Red Clock. Harry’s guitar work is fantastic, Edwina’s having great fun with her new Microkorg and producing an amazing range of keyboard sounds, which has Una Baines making a mental note to purchase one of her own. Craig and Chris are excellent and are more than able substitutes for the absent Dave and Clare.

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Photograph by Johnathan Hargreaves

This is live music at it’s best. Powerful, hypnotic, driven and played with enthusiasm. The four gig highlights of the year for me have been from Australians, two Dave Graney gigs in the spring, The Necks a couple of weeks back, and this gig from Harry Howard and the NDE.

Harry’s melding of garage rock and post-punk merges the best of both into a fresh and modern sound. Add to that great songs and you have a very special live experience.

The band play the Marc Riley session tonight and The Betsey Trotwood in Clerkenwell, London on Thursday before embarking on a full European Tour (details below). I recommend you catch them live, they are fantastic.

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Revised 24/11/16

A case of Vertigo

“Masters of their own musical language of long-form improvisation, each night they step onto the stage with no pre-conceived ideas of what they will play – they and the audience will go on a sonic journey that is created in the moment and in that room.”

This year is The Necks 30th anniversary. They have ploughed a unique musical furrow over that period, releasing fourteen studio albums, one soundtrack, and four live albums. A recent box set from ReR Megacorp collects eight of those releases into a useful history, and for those with enough money, and time, it is a perfect summary of work to date.

Wikipedia describes the trio as “experimental jazz” which is accurate to a point.  Some times they can be as far removed from jazz as chalk is from cheese. I guess the confusion might be that the composition of the band, Chris Abrahams on piano , Tony Buck on drums, and percussion , and Lloyd Swanton on double bass, is the traditional jazz trio line-up. But this is not the Bill Evans Trio, and to be clear, it’s not E.S.T. either. They are far more than jazz, in the same way an improvising collective like AMM or Supersilent are distant from the traditional confines of the genre, but are labelled as “jazz”. Bands like this tend to be shoved into that corner of your local record emporium where the “difficult” music is put. Jazz roots are there, but the trio, over that thirty year time period, have invented a new kind of music. That the classical music writer from The Daily Telegraph reviewed their sold out three day residency at Café Oto in Dalston perhaps says more about the genre defying nature of this band than I can.

A November gig from the trio in Manchester is therefore not to be missed.

This is my second time of seeing them. They tend to make it a habit of playing the Band on the Wall when they are in Manchester. The last time was three or four years back, and the memories are strong of an exceptional performance. So it is with some anticipation I venture down to Manchester’s premier live music venue for their latest gig in the city.

The insistent rain and cold air attempt to dampen my spirits, and the dark, puddle strewn, corners of Oldham Street are not the most inviting of prospects on an autumnal Tuesday night. Despite the inclement weather the place is full. The Necks always pull a large crowd, there’s a couple of seats on the right side of the room with a reasonable view, albeit obstructed by one of the BOTW’s ornate pillars. The Necks performance routine is well established. They will play two sets, both generally between 40 and 50 minutes in length. Very much in the same way that their album releases are generally one uninterrupted track of improvised music the live sets are complete pieces. This requires a lot of concentration and focused listening and my only gripe of the evening is the latecomers who spill into the room after the gig has started which allows the sound of the bar to filter into the room and disturb the delicate opening melodies that Chris Abrahams is developing. There’s also a hipster type, with several layers of clothing, and a back-pack, who decides to float around the room in an annoying fashion. But to counter that aberrant behaviour you close your eyes and lose yourself in the music. If I were the Band on the Wall I’d curfew the room at the set start time to stop the distractions when a band of this type is playing.

So, as I say, as it begins,  Abrahams, picks out a delicate melody, and I begin to wonder if there has been as shift to a more traditional musical form than hitherto experienced. These thoughts are misplaced of course, and soon dissipate  as Swanton uses his bow to create sonorous notes. Buck is not engaged for the first five minutes but slowly comes into the fray with light brush work. What follows is fifty minutes of repetition, with hypnotic surges of organically developing sound. At any one time I am recalling something akin to mid-70s Tangerine Dream, a particularly complex part of a Van Der Graaf Generator opus, a free jazz trio, or industrial music from the early 80s. You have to stop yourself and remember that this wonderful collection of sound is being created by a traditional acoustic piano, double bass and drum kit, albeit that the drummer has any number of little percussion tools at his disposal.  The structure of a Necks set is both familiar and different at the same time, a quiet reflective start, a build up to a complex, dense, and often cacophonous, middle, and then the fall away to a quieter coda.

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You have to remind yourself it is all improvised.

The remarkable thing is the complete lack of ego between the three musicians. They are separate but together. Each individual addresses their own contribution from their part of the stage, but the years of working together have clearly forged a collective endeavour which is equal and complete in its delivery.

The second set is perhaps a little more adventurous than the first. Swanton starts things off with an off kilter, almost Beefheartian riff, indeed Mark Boston had been stood just to the right of where he is several years ago when I saw The Magic Band at the same venue. Possibly some sort of ghostly Van Vliet dust is floating in the air?  Buck is creating alien pings with some brass cymbals which recall the opening of Echoes by Pink Floyd. He soon moves into a different area, and his contribution to this set is more overt. The lead role in the sound swaps between the three musicians. Abrahams uses the piano as a percussion instrument, as Buck creates melody with his battery of percussion, and Swanton floats between them creating sounds that I did not think were possible from a double bass. Time becomes an irrelevance as you lose yourself in this music. The rhythm is more hypnotic in the second set,  almost trance like, the music evokes memories, there’s a waking dream quality to the whole experience. At one point the music builds into a maelstrom of sound that is indescribable.

The Necks latest release is called Vertigo which after this nights experience appears to be an apposite title. They are completely unique, they are always different, but the process and the invention is familiar, so there is a backbone to the music which allows focus on and absorb what they do. You are caught in stream of musical ideas which takes you to a point of transcendence and then gently brings you back down to earth.

http://www.thenecks.com

http://www.bandonthewall.org

A previous gig demonstrates ably the band in full flow