So here we are again ……. upstairs at The Kings Arms…..drinking beer and talking nonsense.
However there is something slightly different this time, the great and the good of the 80s Manchester Scene appear to have congregated on this warmish Friday Night (with intermittent showers) – so we have a couple of “Things”, a “Hamster”, a postman called “Jon”, a couple of “Mutts” and a “Kit B” and that’s just within listening distance. Davey Hammond has come from Thetford as well – but disappointingly he has not brought his smelly flowerpot with him. The object of all this attention is “The Distractions” who are back together performing live for the first time in 30+ years in support of a new album called “The End of the Pier” (which I must get round to reviewing at some point).
Tonight is a show put on by Occultation Records and three of their roster are performing.
First up we have the June Brides whose unconventional six piece line-up includes violin, and trumpet, and just about squeezes onto the stage. They play light melodic tunes – a lot of them in a minor key. The room is not particularly full at this point (perhaps the punters have not heard about the curfew at the Kings Arms) although the audience is appreciative of the bands relaxed and melodic performance. The new single “January Moon”sounds particularly good in this setting.
Downstairs for another beer and a chat with a couple of the Mutts and then back upstairs with some anticipation to see Factory Star. This is around my sixth time of seeing them and the first time with the full line-up of Bramah, Dutton, Moran and McKechnie. But hang on a minute there are only three of them stage? I know Martin is here because I was talking to him earlier. What is going on, I ask myself? The trio launch into a muscular version of “Hanging Man” and about four minutes in Mr B emerges from the dressing room, guitar in hand, plugs in, and joins the fray. A bit of a James Brown moment perhaps – without the sparkly jacket. The tension has been built and frankly after that it does not abate. We get around 50 minutes of intense, frenetic and fascinating music. The sole track from the new mini-album “New Sacral” is “Olympian” – for the most part we are treated to excerpts from “Enter Castle Perilous” and “Blue Orchids” classics. Martin is particularly focused and the band are at their very best with an almost unforgiving barrage of sound. The high-points for me are a mesmerising “When Sleep Won’t Come” and the almost incandescent closer “Angel Steps” which has Martin exorcising a few demons at the end . Mr B exits stage centre as the band powers to a stunning conclusion. We collectively agree that it’s the best gig yet by the band.
I position myself stage left for the Distractions – I want to catch this in all its glory. It’s a bit of Rock and Roll history and it deserves some attention. The legendary Mike Kellie is on drums (Spooky Tooth, The Only Ones) and looks in pretty fine fettle for a chap in his mid-60s. Lable boss Nick Halliwell is stage left and June Brides bassist – Arash Torabi (who gets the honorary Chris Dutton badge for doing two sets in an evening in two different bands) is stage right. The centre of attention is the two original members of the band Steve Perrin and Mike Finney. I readily admit to coming to the band late in my life – I have been given a potted history by my chum and fellow DJ Stephen Doyle and having had a review copy of the new album I am fully aware of their work. What all of that recorded sound doesn’t prepare you for is the experience of hearing Mike Finney’s voice live – it is one of those great voices – deep, resonant and full of emotion. We get quite a few songs from the new album, and couple of oldies, but I begin to glance nervously at my watch as 11pm approaches – the band is around three quarters of their way through the set – maybe they have got a dispensation, as it’s Friday night, from the dreaded 11pm curfew at the Kings. But no – the sound-man comes over and says “three minutes”. Notwithstanding the disappointment of an early conclusion there are sufficient high points in the set to make this a memorable experience – “Waiting for Lorraine” from “Nobodys’ Perfect” gets a very warm response – and “The Summer I Met You” from the new album strikes me as being particularly fine.
Apparently on the following night the band got to do a full set.
Will we see it’s like again? One would hope so, but with Steve Perrin being in the Antipodes there are some specific organisational barriers to get round.
Altogether a very pleasant evening in fine company with some excellent music. Well done to Nick Halliwell et al for making it happen.
A special birthday show for MJ Leigh – drummer of this parish
Last Friday I got a phone call from our Station Manager Chris Brophy to tell me the sad news that fellow DJ Paul Scoble had sadly died. Paul presented the Goldmine Show on Monday Nights on Salford City Radio. His show concentrated on the rich history of rock music from the 60s onwards and was always entertaining and packed full of great tunes from a musical period where uniqueness and talent was synonomous. Aside from being a DJ he was a talented musician and by way of a tribute I am playing a track from his album Fearful Symmetry.
The most read post on this old blog of mine, other than the general home page, is for my review of Factory Star’s debut album “Enter Castle Perilous”, so as you would imagine , given that was also my album of the year for last year, I have been waiting for this new release with some degree of expectation.
There is a change of course with drummer Tom being replaced by Joe Mckechnie so there were are bound to be alterations. But more than that there is a growing maturity and sense of confidence in this release which, whilst it does not set it above the high standards set by ECP, it moves sort of sideways into a new place for the band which is as impressive, but in a slightly different way.
What strikes first is Chris Dutton’s bass playing which delivers a more solid core sound, more supportive of Martin’s trademark guitar, and John’s evocative keyboard sounds. The release breaks into two clear parts for me – the up-tempo first three tunes – and the slightly more relaxed and reflective second trio.
Up first is “Up and On” with Mr B exploring the Country and Western (or is it North Eastern now?) side of his nature with a jaunty mix of garage rock and a mutant barn dance. great organ sounds and a pounding rhythm from Joe and Chris mix with Martin’s raw guitar and equally raw vocal to create a sense of both joyous abandon and menace.
“Olympian” proves to be a bit of a classic with stunning bass riff, four to the floor beats and an organ sound Vincent Crane would be proud of. Martin delivers a powerful vocal performance and the skittish guitar sound he has made his own add to into a rather intoxicating confection. Some of Martin’s best lyrics here with a sense of the triumphant….which is either about the Olympics or it isn’t depending on which angle you come at it from.
Three in and all sounding great so far – the sensual “Incorruptible” is the closest to the previous album in terms of sensibility. The rising guitar figure in call and response with the keyboards works especially well – and the laconic delivery is laced with the sort of dark menacing tone which gives a sense of unease . A wacked out guitar solo way back in the reverb works particularly well also.
Things start to relax for the evocative “Strangely Lucid” which appeared originally on Martin’s “The Battle of Twisted Heel” album …… Dutton’s chunky bass riff underpins shimmering guitar and keys – Martin evokes former boss Nico to some degree with a european, almost Brechtian feel at times ….. for some reason I was reminded of Tuxedomoon in some respects although Martin holds a tune much better than Winston Tong ever could. Wasn’t quite sure about the reason for the phasing on the vox towards the end but generally a rather marvellous tune.
Track five originally called “I Super Real” was also on “Twisted Heel” (and performed in solo session for me by Martin back in April 2010) is now called “Super Real”….. was always a beautifully measured tune and this rendition takes it on to a new level. The darker side of the lyrics emerge here with that almost cynical detachment that Martin can conjure up at times sitting uniquely within the chords of what is a fascinating melody.
The closing “Weird World” has Martin approaching 60s big voice romantic balladry but adding an evocative rising guitar figure over the Hop Man’s electric piano arpeggiating. I got a sense of Jacques Brel somewhere in the middle of this for some reason which is beyond me but mostly I thought – hang on where are they going with this? It works very well in that it’s not something you expect from a Factory Star song.
As usual beautiful packaging by Occultation with great imagery from Jim Donnelly. The band play with The Distractions and the June Brides at the Kings Arms, Salford on 31t August (sold out) and 1st September (a few tickets left) – see the Occultation website for details. Martin is performing a set of Blue Orchids songs and supporting the Silver Apples at Kazimier, Liverpool on 30th September 2012.
Chuffed to hear that Factory Star (winners of last years “album of the year”) will be going into the recording studio soon to lay down four tracks which will include – Superreal (as featured in solo performance on my radio show a couple of years back), Incorruptible, Up & On, Olympian.
Here is a live preview of the excellent Olympian……
Listen which was Recorded from the audience by Alex Staszko at Gullivers Manchester on 15th March 2012.
Factory Star live April 2012
Saturday 14th – Yorkshire Arms, Lancaster
Friday 27th – Green Door Store, Brighton
Saturday 28th – Queens Head, 144 Stockwell Rd, London
The arbiters of taste, style and hip would have you know that reforming Madchester Acts, or the latest thing to seep slowly from south of the Mancunian Way, into the rabid musical fleshpots of Manchester are the things to be lending your ear to at the moment. There are any number of blogs aiming to ram this, that and the other down your lug-holes. I suppose I am as much to blame with my monomania on specific genres or “family trees” in the wacky world of rock and roll.
On Friday Night I heard Paul Morley enter into a conversation with himself, on that Late Night Review thing that Kirsty Wark does, about the validity or otherwise of BBC Introducing, and be remarkably clear on the dilemma of bands wanting to “make it” in the biz. Paul, like me, has been around a few years so he is seasoned in the experiences of watching musicians try to make progress in an increasingly unfriendly world.
You may wish to absorb all of this fresh new talent but I suggest you balance that out by taking in some of the newer bands emerging from the, shall we say, more experienced end of the business.
Last Thursday night I caught three bands at the Kings Arms who have collectively (with one exception) been around the business in this conurbation for long enough to be dubbed “elder statesmen” (although they will probably give me a good telling off for using that form of words). I had put this particular bill together in an attempt to get some experienced localism together for the first of the Salford City Radio Music Nights at the pub. There are, as there always are, linkages between the three bands in terms of past history, and there was sufficient old and new material between the members of the three bands to fill my colleague Stephen Doyle’s Sonic Diary show for an hour on the preceding evening. I use the word “caught” specifically here as for most the three sets I was outside the concert room on the door collecting money and stamping hands and generally chatting with punters who had come to see the gig. However the set-up of the Kings means whilst you don’t get the visual spectacle you can indeed catch the aural element of the performances in all its glory.
First up were Sandells who delivered 40 minutes of intense, loud and insistent music. From the mutant space rock of “Alien Intelligence” through the Can-like rhythms of “No Way Out” the band delivered a powerful set. They covered Neil Young, they did some improvising and generally they blew the roof of the place with Benson’s polyrhythmics, Lyons’s gargantuan bass, and Kloos’s pyschedelic guitar mastery. The first time I had caught a full set from them and well worth the wait.
Next up a stripped down Factory Star. Since the last time I saw them Tom Lewis has left (having migrated down south) to be replaced by Joe McKechnie who some readers will remember from The Passage (the Fall alumni family tree gets even more complicated as a result) and Pete Wylie’s band. Hop Man Jr has also hopped off having secured a solo gig nearby at Islington Mill for the evening. So we get a faster, more spiky and altogether less restrained iteration of Bramah’s band where the guitar comes very much to the fore. It’s at this point you realise how damn good a guitarist the man is with much the rhythm and lead work being combined into one excellent whole. After three rehearsals only this band managed to pull off a tour de force with Chris Dutton holding the centre with a bravura bass performance. Much of Enter Castle Perilous was delivered with vigour and passion.
And to close the utterly mesmerising Kill Pretty. Starting with the aforementioned Mr Doyle introducing the band by tearing a toy animal to pieces and then the band rumbling through a selection of their tasty tunes including “Brown Eyes”, “Emperors New Clothes”, “Stress” and the new and very wonderful “Year of the 13 Moons”. The drums are from the master of rockabilly Michael John Leigh, the bass is from a 15 year old whose skill and dexterity belie his years, his dad plays a mean guitar and the living legend that is Ian “Moet” Moss is the ringmaster, master of ceremonies and chief agitator over a group of musicians who, if you read the rock text books, should not be doing this together. Screw the text books say I, you don’t learn craft, toil, art and song delivery like this in a lecture hall on a BA(Hons) course in music performance. You learn this through experiencing life and all its’ ups and downs, by sweating in front of small crowds in small backrooms of pubs and by absorbing years of experience. Ian Moss’s masterstroke here is combining the youthful exuberance and technical excellence of Josh Dutton with the experience of dad Chris and Mike Leigh.
And is has to be said that the three lyricists for the evening, Lyons, Bramah and Moss could give a masterclass to any aspiring song-writer about how to put words to music.
An amazing evening – even if I did have to listen to most of it through a door.
To commence a Happy Birthday to Farley my ex-pat chum who resides in Christchurch, New Zealand and provides me with regular scoop fulls of interesting music from the other side of the planet.
Now then – yesterday proved to be very busy with a ton of new stuff coming in – so I will point out:
– Stolen Mushrooms – who are from Luton and sound a little like the RHCPs but have their own style and stance, there’s also a slight smattering of Marr guitaring mixed in with a crisp afro-beat feel and the interplay is reminiscent of early Yes to some degree. If you are confused by that confusing description I suggest you give them a gander via Facebook and reach your own conclusions.
– The Ascension – Macclesfields’ finest rocking beat combo are still looking for a drummer but have put together a new five track EP “Blood Upon The Rose” which will be out shortly. Recorded in Salford and then mixed/produced by Mr Archer at 6dB studios I am advised. Doug (bass, vocals, keys) has sent me a couple of tracks over and they are rather marvellous.
– Kit B – who don’t appear to have a Facebook page yet – have been joined by my chum Mr John Montague on the bass guitar – they are looking for a drummer as well (bit of a trend here) – and the fruits of their early collaboration have emerged with a new tune “Rock-Ola Rocket”. Both Mr Leigh and Mr Montague (ex of the very excellent Pearl Divers) are getting very close to the “three band” magnificence of Mr Dutton – one wonders if Mr Dutton will form another combo in order to maintain a reasonable gap?
– Joy Division – the 10CD/7 vinyl/download compilation “Plus Minus” appears to be excellent value for money as long as you don’t opt for the vinyl option. In terms of rescuing the planet from environmental meltdown I don’t quite see the logic of producing all the plastic and paper but I suppose it’s art. Whether you have all these already and want to splash out your cash is a moot point which I guess reflects the pricing structure. In any event the re-mastering does refresh the sound somewhat and it’s good to have all the stuff in one place on the hard drive I guess.
– Lambchop’s new album – out in three weeks – is dedicated to Vic Chesnutt. It’s called “Mr M” – i’ve always been a fan of Kurt Wagners pained lyricism and this album is packed with it – whether it is just a little bit too lacking in grit I suppose is the key issue. It’s late night music, relaxed, reflective and to some degree a little too laid back for me.
– In a similar vein – The Hello Strangers – play a laid back and utterly melodic form of bluesy Americana. The promo is pretty good on this one – “Texas country-folk, and roots rock, all tied together with lilting harmonies that only sisters can accomplish. Timeless imagery and fables accompany each song, from tales of a boggy creek bottom where a murdered man sleeps, to a Texas roadhouse with bawdy dancers and clinking beer bottles, to more poignant reflections on the loss of winter and a man gone wrong.” I was particularly struck by “Conococheague” with it’s eerie guitar intro and insistent folky sound. I got six tracks from their “Introducing Max Schmidt” release from a couple of years back. Very impressed.
And on this evenings Aural Delights Radio show you will find the following dear listener: