Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Friends May Come, and Friends May Go (but my NME's have never deserted me) - The NME Awards Tour Returns to Norwich with Blossoms, Cabbage, and Rory Wynne



Back in my teens most of the remaining earnings from my Saturday job that didn't disappear that night on underage drinking, petrol for my moped, or a packet of nine Players No6 (one ciggie missing in order that the two-bob vending machine didn't need to be sent away and reconfigured), would be earmarked for vinyl, and also my Thursday trip to the newsagent to collect the latest copy of New Musical Express. Melody Maker was a bit too clever (albeit essential reading for musicians and songwriters), Sounds was OK, and Record Mirror was way too 'singles' orientated. No, for any self-respecting prog-rocker it had to be the NME.

Then I went to college, and punk happened. NME cleverly re-invented itself, pronouncing that all prog-rock bands were 'dinosaurs', and that the future lay in just two guitar chords, both preferably played badly. As I embraced what was happening right outside my window in the Kings Road the NME was with me every step of the way, guiding me through the Streets of London that Ralph McTell dare not tread, and introducing me to venues where I first saw The Clash, X-Ray Spex and The Adverts.

But the tables had turned, and suddenly the magazine was bigger than the bands that it had once sycophantically praised. Suddenly the NME had the power to make or break a band, and the record companies held their breath as the likes of Charles Shaar Murray and Nick Kent offered their praise or unleashed their venom on the week's new releases. From that moment on I became a 'detached' reader, buying it just to get the cover mounted cassettes, and later CD's, or to check on tour dates.

In the same way that Video Killed The Radio Star, the internet finally nailed the coffin lid shut on Melody Maker (Sounds and Record Mirror having gone through their death throes years earlier). It briefly merged with New Musical Express which had escaped by the skin of its teeth, although by now I was mostly consulting the NME website rather than handing over cash for hard copy. For the occasional WH Smith indulgence I was more likely to pick up the glossy, though more expensive, monthly magazines like Q, Uncut or Mojo.

Finally, in 2015 the NME threw in the towel and became a free weekly disposa-rag available from branches of HMV. To be fair, despite its tendency to now put big name photos on the front cover, and include lots of fashion content on the inside, it still champions new artists that also tick the right boxes on its new agenda - bands like Years & Years and Christine and The Queens certainly benefited from the exposure given.

But one thing that the NME did, and always did well, was their annual live Awards Tour that would piece together a number of bands and venues for a mixture of breaking names and established acts. It would always call in on Norwich, quickly selling out the Nick Rayns LCR at the University of East Anglia, and we scrambled to get a chance to see bands like Arctic Monkeys, Florence and The Machine, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers. Then, in 2014, Norwich got missed out, and was again omitted the following year. And last year.

But fear not. In 2017 it was back, with latest indie darlings Blossoms as headliners, Cabbage as support, and with teenage newcomer Rory Wynne as opener.

Interestingly, Norwich appeared to be the only date on the thirteen city tour that had not sold out in advance - £20 tickets were still on offer at the door as I checked in with my VR-coded e-mail print-out.

Rory Wynne

Rory Wynne kicked off the evening, leading his three piece band through a set of songs that included all four tracks from his debut EP What Would Rory Wynne Do? Strangely, the stage set-up left Rory displaced to stage right, leaving him appear more like band vocalist than solo singer with backing band, but he didn't seem to mind. Too much. His confidence and swagger was perhaps bordering on cocky ('Let's hear it if you think I'm great'), and some of his poses were straight out of a Guitar Hero tutorial, but he managed to win over more of the crowd as he progressed. His Stockport background, and Liam Gallagher vocal style, gives a clue as to what to expect, but I also detected elements of John Lennon and I Am Kloot's John Bramwell jostling to be heard.

Cabbage

I missed Manchester's Cabbage when they rocked last year's Norwich Sound and Vision at the Arts Centre, so this was my time to make amends. With two dynamic vocalists in the shape of  Lee Broadbent (still recovering from a pelvic injury, but now able to stand for most of the gig) and lithe guitarist Joe Martin, Cabbage sing with pith, wit and venom about subjects ranging from the political to the taboo. Describing themselves as neo-post-punks, the influences of the classic punk bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and The Stranglers are all residing beneath a veneer of individual and distinctive songwriting, and they are very much about the present. Uber Capitalist Death Trade screams at our political system, and whilst Necroflats in the Palace lays blame for the state of our NHS at those holding the purse-strings. Meanwhile Dinner Lady re-invents classic American Pie humour with a savoury twist in Dinner Lady. Even the drumkit pokes fun self-deprecatingly at their own literacy with the band's name spelled as 'Cabij'. It rhymes with baggage. Definitely Not 'Cab-bage' (which rhymes with 'Farage').

It rhymes with Baggage, not Farage


The reason for Rory Wynne and his band, and also Cabbage, to be crammed to the front of the stage is fully revealed when the black drapes are removed, revealing three feet risers for Joe Donovan's drumkit and Myles Kellock's keyboards behind the bank of lights. In front of them the remainder of Blossoms - Josh Dewhurst (guitars), Charlie Salt (bass) and Tom Ogden (vocals and guitars) now seem to have acres in which to operate. From the opening bars of At Most a Kiss to the final bars of Charlemagne the Stockport band give everything in order to make this a show to remember. Watching Ogden control the centre stage whilst the band serve up a perfectly balanced platter of sound to the sides, behind and above him, it is hard to believe this is the same band that tentatively headlined on the Arts Centre stage a mere eighteen months ago. And this certainly does not seem like a play-everything-we-do performance oft witnessed from one-album bands thrust suddenly onto the large stage. Each and every song seems to sit perfectly alongside its neighbour, even allowing newer tracks from the extended version - songs like Smoke, Across The Moor, Fourteen and Polka Dot Bones to grow wings and fly. The lighting is perfectly executed and cued to the songs, using backlights, spots strobes and banks to create an arena-style experience. And then, as if to emphasise their grass roots appeal and refusal to be sucked into diva-dom, Ogden follows up his acoustic version of My Favourite Room, dedicated to the cruelly dumped Lizzie from the audience, with a sing-along medley that seamlessly morphs from Oasis' Half The World Away to Wham's Last Christmas. Brilliant.



Blossoms

Whether the NME blossoms in its new incarnation remains to be seen. But one thing is clear. As sure as Spring precedes Summer, Blossoms from Stockport are here to stay.