Wednesday 16 December 2015

Islam Chipsy and EEK Rock the Casbah at Norwich Arts Centre

Ten days until Christmas. It's incredibly mild, but the skies are just so incredibly grey. Those who still haven't finished their present buying are scurrying around like squirrels searching for their nuts, probably wishing they had been far more organised and ordered everything on-line about three weeks ago. The students have all packed their rucksacks and caught the train home, the obligatory office parties loom for the rest of us, and yet, amazingly, their are still gigs to go to and provide an opportunity to escape the madness for just a few hours.

Tonight, at Norwich Arts Centre we get a chance to greet Egyptian electro chaabi pioneer Islam Chipsy and his band EEK, although for 'band' read 'two drummers and two drumkits'. Featured several times within the columns of The Guardian newspaper, this three-way force of nature (as they have been described) are currently touring the UK, and finish up in London tonight.

First up in Norwich, though, are local favourites BK & Dad, who always produce a blistering sound out of a guitar and just the one drumkit. It therefore looks like we really are going to rock the casbah here tonight. 

Pip and Leo have set their kit up on the floor in front of the main stage, and perform in total darkness, save for two strategically placed laser spots behind. BK & Dad's playing is always mesmerising, but with the penetrating rays silhouetting their forms the result is spookily and hallucinogenically hypnotic - a bit like watching an episode of the X-files whilst listening to Led Zeppelin on your DrDre's. This is the fifth time I've seen the boys play in the last year, and every time I say how it is their best performance yet. And tonight is no exception. I'm sorry, but however good they sound on Gravy or Soundcloud it is still no substitute for feeling it live.


Islam Chipsy takes the stage with little fuss and no introduction. Throughout the entire set there is no verbal communication, in fact no vocalising at all. This is an instrumental excursion that uses the two drummers to provide a relentless backing to Islam's frenetic approach to playing his Yamaha keyboard. He swipes and thrashes at it whilst pre-programmed effects that range from funky Billy Preston riffs to the authentic sounds of the souk rain down on us. At the same time his infectious smile beams down and we helplessly fall under the spell. 

There are more than a few of the audience that are swaying to the rhythm with arms aloft and really getting into the atmosphere of the evening. I'm impressed, and feeling privileged and uplifted that music is once again capable of providing such a platform to transcend and unite different cultures. So soon before Christmas, and so soon after the horrific events at The Bataclan in Paris, one cannot fail to make the connection, yet this is not a symbolic event. There is no room for any of the Bono 'my-stage-is-your-stage' sentimentality. This is just another gig. It is purely about the music.

Having said that, I am not sure whether Islam Chipsy is going to leave a lasting impression with me musically. Towards the end of the set I am secretly yearning to have it mixed up just a bit. Some vocals would be nice, or a bit of movement. Dare I say it, even a couple of belly dancers would add a certain something, however stereotypical that might have appeared. At the end of the day, Islam Chipsy and EEK would be a top-class entertainment at the Sharm El Sheikh Hilton, so much more authentic than yet another Rat-Pack tribute act, and I would buy the CD as a souvenir of a wonderful experience. But tonight's mustard was once again cut in no uncertain terms by BK & Dad.

 However, for tonight, and possibly tonight only, Islam Chipsy and EEK became my new favourite Egyptian band.

Friday 4 December 2015

Christmas Shopping and Outline Bopping - The First 'Cut' is the Deepest

Thursday evening. Late night shopping in Norwich. First Thursday in December. Definitely time to get this Christmas shopping malarkey sorted before the crowds and the crush becomes as unwelcome as a grope at a Catfish and the Bottlemen gig. Time to track down Grandpa's socks and Grandma's perfumed drawer liners before the gentle aroma of Yardley's lavender is replaced with the sweatier muskier smack of  retail desperation.

Meanwhile, just a stone's throw from the top of Norwich's London Street (just like Bond Street, but without a tube station) lies Open, the magnificent former headquarters of Gurneys Bank. A place of refuge and sanctuary tonight from the over-priced gift coffrets and questionably unrepeatable blue cross bargains, and the venue for what hopefully will be the first of a regular series of events showcasing Norfolk's finest up and coming bands. Organised jointly by Outline Magazine and BBC Introducing, and taking over the downstairs Club Bar at Open, a good crowd has secured the best bargain available in Norwich tonight - four bands for a fiver (or £3 for those uber-organised bods who booked in advance).

First up are the mighty Midnight Zoo, three youngsters from Norwich who have are already creating waves and are being talked of locally as the 'new Joy Divison'. It's the third time I've seen them live in the space of a few months, and I'm pleased to report that their performances are maturing into much more than just an 80's tribute act. Jess Page Jarrett is a towering presence with his growling vocals, manic guitar work and adolescent strutting. His eyes may be closed whilst he sings, but ours are transfixed. Neat drums from Michael and steady bass from Zachary provide the anchor to a memorable opener for tonight's show. Two new songs premiered tonight, including the impressively moody 'Ride the Tide'.
Jess from Midnight Zoo

Thieving Icons have a lot of support in the room tonight, and relish playing to the crowd as they launch into their set of punchy pop punk. Andrew Todd has recently joined the lineup, replacing Marcus on drums, but the seams don't show. Admittedly their material reminds me of the standard pub-rock fayre that I used to dine out on back at The Greyhound in Fulham Palace Road many moons ago, but the final two songs seem to shift up a gear and have greater impact. More 'Narcotics' please.

Thieving Icons' Liam Wells

Secret From Richard are the second of tonight's acts that are new to me. They seem to divide opinion, but for my money they are probably the most marketable of tonight's lineup, and their playing seems to be a quorum of four individual talents, each contributing to the finished product. The strength of the material is obviously paramount, and even though these boys have the right jeans, the right trainers and exactly the right line-up of faces (bearded beany-toting guitarist, long-haired grunger on bass, manic drummer and blonde good-looker on vocals), the  songs and stage presence could perhaps benefit from a tad more aggression. Way too good to be fed to the A&R men and moulded into something they're not, but most definitely deserving of wider recognition.

Secret From Richard's Jason Sturman

BK & Dad need no introduction to anyone remotely interested in the Norwich music scene, but are so, so different to any of the other three acts that it is a shame that not everyone stayed long enough to see them headline tonight's 'Cut'. The sonic blitzkrieg of Leo's guitar and Pip's drumming never fails to impress, whether it be from the stage of the Norwich Arts Centre with full visual accompaniment, or from a simple marquee by the skatepark in Eaton Park. Either way I am transported back in time to the days of the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road in a way that the likes of Royal Blood seem uninterested in tapping into. If you like your ears to bleed in seven psychedelic shades, you will love BK & Dad.

BK & Dad

So that was it. Thursday night. Too late to organise another Cut in time to soften the carnage of the next three weeks' late night shopping grapples, but at least Grandma's drawers are sorted. More soon please, and thank you to Open, Outline and BBC Introducing for making the first Cut the deepest. 

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Welcome to the Wild Wild East - Dubioza Kolektiv Do Norfolk, Boy

I wasn't really sure what to expect from Bosnian dub-rockers Dubioza Kolektiv. I knew that the band formed out of the turmoil that existed during the siege of Sarajevo during the 1990's, through which the founder members lived as children. They have released six albums since 2004 and toured relentlessly, as well as being politically active in their homeland, organising demonstrations and mobilising young voters against what they saw as corrupt government. Now, in 2015, they have played Glastonbury and are nearing the end of a string of live appearances in the UK which included two sold-out nights at London's 100 Club. Tonight, on a cold Monday evening, they played Norwich Arts Centre, not exactly the Wild Wild East (name of their 2011 album release), but probably the most easterly of their UK dates.

Support comes from Savage Island, a local band that has emerged from the ashes of Juke and the All-Drunk Orchestra. The name may be shorter, snappier, and form more easily into a drumskin logo, but perhaps loses some of its predecessor's charm and individuality.Which is a shame, as they really put in an excellent set. I had not previously seen them, and if you had told me that they were from Eastern European and were touring with Dubioza, quite honestly I would have believed you. Their music is an amalgam of spirited drumming, primal screaming, great rock vocals, bass playing that could at any minute launch into Electric Six's 'Gay Bar', a brass section that can switch from Cossack rhythms to KC and the Sunshine Band funkiness at the flick of a switch, and some great songs. Despite starting to an almost empty auditorium (shame on you, bar lizards) they ended to much dancing and enthusiasm. Definitely want to see them again.

Savage Island

After clearing the stage sufficiently to create room for Dubioza - the drumkit is pushed right back and screened, the MC decks are also well to the rear. There are no mic stands, and even audience drinks are ordered off the edge of the stage. And when the eight-piece collective, in co-ordinated  yellow and black tops, bound onto stage you can see why. Every square centimetre of space is going to be needed for this level of pent-up energy. From the start of the opening number to the final bars of their set, the stage becomes a maelstrom of circling bodies, waving arms, and energised posturing. With Adis and Almir charging back and forth, taking alternate verses on vocals, and everyone else wanting a piece of front-of-stage action, nobody's pint would be safe, even for a second. These guys have the energy of an entire doped-up cycling team - it's like a team of Lance Armstrong doppelgangers with funny haircuts.

Interestingly, for a band with such a political pedigree, there is very little mention of politics tonight. Even a chant from the crowd of 'We Love Bosnia' is rebuked with a reminder that the band now also contains members from the neighbouring states of Serbia and Slovenia. Only when they perform  Free.mp3 (The Pirate Bay Song), and produce a pirate ship banner to reinforce the logos on their t-shirts, does their antipathy towards capital exploitation of musical downloading raise its head. Sorry guys, but I'm with the artists on this one. Creative expression is all well and good, but a musician still needs to be paid for his or her intellectual property in order to eat. However, it's undoubtedly a great novelty song, with an hilarious video to accompany it.

And that, I'm afraid, is where I have to draw my line in the sand with Dubioza Kolektiv. On the basis of last night's performance they are great entertainers, and the audience loves them, culminating with a mass stage invasion, mostly at the band's own instigation, to a backing track of Prodigy's Out of Space which follows a rather cheesy encore of Can't Take My Eyes Off You, complete with more collective arm waving. It's the sort of post-fondue entertainment that goes down well with the après-ski set in Val d'Isère, but risks reducing Dubioza to the realms of cabaret. Which is such a shame for a band that has such a great collective conscience and a message to spread.

As bands like Gogol Bordello have found, there is always room at the inn for a lively infusion of Balkan and gypsy rhythm with rock music, but unless you are prepared to nail your political convictions firmly to the mast as well, your preaching will not get through to your audiences. Or, perhaps now that we have Jeremy Corbyn they no longer feel that we need their help.

Watch out for Savage Island's new website (on the way). In the meantime follow them on Facebook at

Follow Dubioza Kolektiv via their website at , and do watch the video to Free.mp3 (The Pirate Bay Song) :- 

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Seafret - A new name to play with?

It seemed the right thing to do. After the horrific attacks in Paris last Friday we were looking for a symbolic gesture of defiance to show that we will not allow a crazed group of psychopathic killers to threaten our way of life. Those in Paris could take to the streets, and vigils were held throughout the world as the blue, white and red lights illuminated landmark buildings in a mark of solidarity and respect. In this country the decision to carry on with the scheduled soccer friendly at Wembley between England and France was seen as a unifying opportunity for us all to sing La Marseillaise in fraternal friendship. Here in Norwich I desperately wanted a gig to attend, just to show that no fundamentalist was ever going to destroy my passion for music. The opportunity came on Monday night, at Norwich Arts Centre.

Seafret was a name that was new to me. Sounding a bit like a shipping container company, and having just the right combination of vowels and consonants to convince Countdown contestants that there surely would be a seven-letter word with which to reap the bonus points (there is one - 'feaster', as I don't think 'Freesat' would be permitted), this duo from Bridlington would provide me with my tribunal of solidarity.

Cove Hithe

Cove Hithe open the evening with the same three-piece line-up that performed at the Millenium Library earlier this Autumn as part of Norwich Sound and Vision. This means that multi-instrumentalist Matilda Pendered is again missing, leaving Jay Ducker to perform upfront. With the news that Rory is tonight making his last appearance on drums before taking off to Canada, the band could be in danger of turning into a solo act accompanied solely by the strange retro-keyboard player who looks strangely like an East Coast Ron Mael. The songs are still beautifully delivered, though, and with the band now proudly claiming to be Norwich-based, I'm sure it won't be long before we see them again with 'Till back in the fold., and with a replacement drummer.

Martin Luke Brown

Martin Luke Brown, from Leicester, is next, and one of a exclusive band of Musical Martins that, despite my furrowed head-scratching, can only remember Martin Kemp from Spandau Ballet and Martin Gore from Depeche Mode as fellow members. He sports a shaggy hairstyle and a cracking line in shirts, so when he starts playing his red Nord keyboard and singing with a soulful voice and extraordinary range that pitches him alternately between Stevie Wonder and Olly Alexander from Years and Years, I am somewhat surprised. The beauty of the Nord is that it is also an incredibly versatile instrument, so Martin becomes almost funky on 'Scars On Scars', then abandons the keyboards in preference for acoustic guitar to deliver a Sheeran-esque version of 'Knife Edge'. He more than holds his own during the set, and is certainly a name to remember. The music world needs more Martins.

With a powerfully lit box sign proclaiming their name at the back of the stage we are in no danger of forgetting the lexicographers' favourites, Seafret. Playing tonight with backing from drums and keyboards, Bridlington's Jack Sedman (vocals) and Harry Draper (acoustic guitar) are attracting a fair bit of attention ahead of the Spring 2016 release of their debut album. Up until now we have had the EPs 'Give Me Something' and 'Oceans', which have been championed by both Huw Stephens and Zane Lowe. With a name that refers to a mist that rolls in off the North Sea, and Bridlington's rich maritime history and shellfish trade, one almost expects Seafret's music to be a combination of traditional folk and sea shanties, however much they look like a youthful Simon and Garfunkel (although Harry looks slightly more Pete Docherty than Paul Simon). The truth is, with Sedman's vocal abilities, and the strength of the songwriting, the result is reassuringly contemporary, but with the pedigree of past masters like Coldplay and Bon Iver to hold up as comparisons.

It is a combination that works well. Sedman sings and does all the talking, whilst Draper looks cool and plays his guitar. They seem somewhat bemused by the non-committal reaction of the Norwich Arts Centre audience. As each song is met with earnest yet polite applause Sedman is prompted to comment that he "can't quite make you lot out". There's no encore, just an invitation to write a contribution in their tour book, and obviously to buy some merch.

Seafret's Jack Sedman

The evening has served it's purpose for me, and I have made the point of coming out to listen to live music, and will always do so. Our cultural institutions and traditions are too important to be lost through fear or intimidation, regardless of how the politicians dance around the protocols of dealing with the terrorist threat and combating ISIS. Let us hope that the performing arts will continue to unite people of all faiths and creeds, and that the events of last Friday will actually result in a greater mutual understanding and determination to share our cultures.

Seafret have a website at and you can even see Maisie Williams (Game of Thrones) in their video for 'Oceans' -

Martin Luke Brown has a website complete with a link for a free download of 'Nostalgia' in exchange for signing away your soul.

Cove Hithe also have their own web thingy at , or you can like them on Facey-B at .  If you are lucky you may still be able to pick up a vinyl/CD dual package of their 'Your Ground Is My Earth' release for the bargain price of £5. Yet another reason why I will probably end up buying a record player after all.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Nizlopi and The Moulettes - A Double Bill of Chalk and Cheese?

I've always liked the idea of a double bill, whether it be a back to back screening of a couple of Bond films, or two stand-up comedians touring together, hopefully managing to generate a stitch on both sides from twice the usual amount of laughter. When it comes to music, the convention is usually upheld that one artist headlines, and the other supports. When a joint headlining tour does go ahead there is usually an obvious connection between the two acts - same era, same genre, or perhaps (cynically) same agent.

As far as I can see none of these produce a common denominator between Nizlopi, the loveable but slightly anarchistic duo of Luke Concannon and John Parker, famous for the 2005 No.1 novelty hit 'JCB Song'; and Moulettes, a slightly anachronistic fusion of folk mythology and prog-rock of the kind once popularised in the 1970's by bands like Gryphon, Quintessence and The Incredible String Band. Never mind. However, add into the mix an honestly proclaimed support act of prog-folk persuasion, Heg & the Wolf Chorus from Bristol, and you have all the potential ingredients for a musical Pret-à-Manger sandwich.

Tonight, the musical "meal-deal" hits Norwich Arts Centre on the same night that NME indie darlings Foals are selling out to the cool kids at the Nick Raynes LCR at University of East Anglia, and rapper Lethal Bizzle has the urban crowd by the scruff of the neck at Mercy in Prince of Wales Road. This leaves the 'thirtysomething' crowd free to let their hair down without fear of bumping into and embarrassing their kids at what, let's not forget, is the current holder of NME Best Small Venue in the UK.

Heg & the Wolf Chorus

First up, as you would have expected, were Heg & the Wolf Chorus. Wolves still hold a romantic attachment for many of us who were spellbound earlier in the year by WildWorks' production of Wolf's Child at Felbrigg Hall, a huge part of this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival. Any claimants to the lupine crown are really going to have to impress here tonight. And I have to admit, it takes me a while to warm to songwriter, vocalist and keyboard player Heg Brignall. Her white smock dress, clipped vowels and theatrical smile all smack a little too much of pretentiousness and delusions of grandeur. To be quite honest, I kind of hope she does throw her glass of red wine down her front just to wipe that grin off her face.

 However, once she lapses into a broad Durham dialect to recount the tale of how her grandmother followed a painted trail through the streets of Seaham (an introduction to their song 'Sea Shanty for Bessie Harker') I am finally won over. If you like your folk music infused with tales of the sea, elemental challenges, and legends of White Witches, beautifully played and sung with clarity and precision, then Heg & The Wolf Chorus could well be your starter course. Heg, I do actually doff my oilskin cap to you, and hope to see you back at The Bicycle Shop when you return to Norwich.

The first that we are aware of Nizlopi's set commencing is when they appear in the middle of the audience and start playing, even as audience are returning from the bar. Having seen Luke and John perform here earlier in the year I was prepared for this, but there was a certain amount of wheelchair-axle-spinning going on as certain audience members, carefully positioned right in front of the stage, were clearly caught off-guard. Luke Concannon's energy and passion is almost on a level of hyperactivity, and is thankfully harnessed by John Parker's laconic countering. Together they are a dynamic force, as anyone who has seen them before will testify. The politics of revolution and one-world may be over-simplistic but one cannot help be sucked in by the Concannon Sincerity. John's hissy-fit threat to quit the band and ask Ed Sheeran if he needed a bass player was both spontaneous and comedy genius. Don't judge these guys solely by the JCB Song. Yes, they play it, and once you realise that it was not written as a novelty song you will love it even more. They didn't play 'Extraordinary', reassuringly proving once again that it is not always the people with the biggest mouths that necessarily get listened to the most.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting from Moulettes. I do know what I was not expecting. I was certainly not expecting to see the lovely Raevennan Husbandes, winner of Norfolk's 2012 Next Big Thing competition (previously won by a certain Ed Sheeran), in the lineup, swapping her acoustic singer-songwriter badge for that of electric guitar playing rock chick. Although a recent addition to Moulettes line-up her distinctive voice adds a real extra dimension to the vocal harmonies. I was not expecting a bassoon (my fault, do your homework Auckland!), let alone seeing it rock courtesy of bobby-socked Ruth Skipper (who also plays a mean auto-harp, and sings). I was not expecting a zoology lesson on the Helicephalobus Mephisto nematode worm found five miles down inside Mexican goldmines, or the chromatophore properties of octopusses (We are complimented for not correcting front-person and cello player Hannah Miller for saying octopusses - I didn't like to say that in Norfolk we probably know no better, and also say 'cactuses', 'funguses' and 'parahippocampal gyruses'. OK, I lied about the last one. We all know that one should be 'gyri').

What we did get from Moulettes was a mixture of the high-tech and the legendary. Personally, I wasn't that impressed by the illuminated mike stands that, on command, lit up like 'Bake-Off' candied light sabres - they were just a distraction. The habitual flirting with the dark side in the preamble to songs from their last album 'Constellations' wears thin quite quickly, and the science lectures introducing tracks from their upcoming 'Strange Creatures' is not necessarily conducive with having a good time on a Saturday night. Combine the two with some jumbled introduction attempted between Hannah, Ruth and Rae about how the discovery of some low frequency oceanic vibrations possibly indicated the presence of the legendary Bahamut (which quite honestly washed over me like a November breaker on Cromer Beach), and you could be misled into thinking that I didn't enjoy their set. Not a bit of it.

 There were moments that reminded me of bands of my youth, a time when the barriers between classical, traditional and progressive seemingly came crashing down amidst the cerebral infiltration of substances not known to previous generations. Real ale, synthetic psychotropics and herbal substances all broadened our horizons in a way that happily accepted songs about mythical beasts and extraterrestrial visitation. The trouble is, when obviously intelligent musicians now present this as entertainment it has lost its mystique, its Unique Selling Point, especially when subsequently is interlaced with zoology lessons. But if you just forget the lyrical content long enough to examine the musicality harbored underneath and there are some real treats waiting to be mined.  But, for the moment, their songs are more memorable for the introductions than the content.

Heg & the Wolf Chorus will soon be releasing their debut album 'Raising The Fires' - follow them on their website at , and if you are quick you may be able to download a couple of tracks for free. And don't forget their imminent return to Norwich at The Bicyle Shop. Keep an eye on for details.

Nizlopi and their doings are all to be found at

For all manner of information about Moulettes including, potentially, more marine biology lectures, go to

Saturday 7 November 2015

Magoo at The Owl Sanctuary, accompanied by Post War Glamour Girls and fireworks

Last night, at The Owl Sanctuary in Norwich, I finally got to see a band that is still talked of in reverential tones by those 'in the know' when it comes to the history of rock music from this region. Magoo formed in the early nineties, and via records released firstly on local label Noisebox, and then later on Scottish 'indie' label Chemikal Underground, were on the brink of national and even international recognition. They played the CMJ Music Marathon in New York and Glastonbury Festival, and recorded a total of six sessions for John Peel on BBC Radio 1. Their albums got favourable reviews but, as has so often happened with bands from Norfolk they just managed to slip off the radar before they had built up sufficient momentum to keep domestic interest alive.

Twenty years later and the band are still active, rehearsing and recording at guitarist Owen Turner's Sickroom Studios near Kings Lynn, and so when I heard that they were back in Norwich for a headlining gig at The Owl Sanctuary I simply had to keep my diary clear. 

On a slightly drizzly yet incredibly mild  Friday night in November the centre of Norwich was packed. As well as the beginnings of the usual weekend revelry this Friday there was also the free fireworks display from the Castle grounds to draw in the crowds, and so it was a packed Owl Sanctuary to which I finally arrived just before ten o'clock. Too late to see first band up, Witchers, but not too late to catch most of the set from Post War Glamour Girls, a nice tight four-piece from Leeds headed up by charismatic singer James Smith - not afraid to leave the comfort and safety of the stage and deliver his vocals from the auditorium floor, and backed by James Thorpe on guitar, drummer Ben Clyde, and some deft bass playing from Alice Scott. I don't know if it was their first visit to Norwich, but based on tonight's show we'll definitely have them back. Definitely justified tonight's admission fee alone. Hope we were worth their petrol money down from Yorkshire.

Post War Glamour Girls

As soon as the stage is cleared of Post War amps and instruments Magoo are up and sound-checking. Their air is one of relaxed familiarity - it would appear that most of the audience either knows them, or is with someone that knows them, reinforcing what I had been told about their local following, even twenty years on. Drummer Stacy Gow comfortably positions himself behind his kit before realising that he has nothing to drink. A quick SOS and an audience member dutifully returns with a glass. Dappily dressed vocalist Andrew Rayner assumes a position right of stage leaving Owen Turner on bass to front up the band tonight, whilst Dave Lake carefully arranges his array of guitar pedals to the left 

Whilst Rayner's characteristic vocals and rapid guitar work take us through the setlist, including songs going right back to 1996, guitarist Dave Lake is extracting an amazing array of sounds from his guitar pedals whilst throwing in some cheese-grater action for good measure. Gow is relaxed and smiling, but keeps everyone together with steady drumming as they rattle through a series of short but schnazzy post-punk numbers with just a hint of BritPop swagger. The pace is certainly quick enough for sweat to be visibly dripping off Turner's tousled locks by the time the set ends, even though he comments that they 'still have another seven songs to play'. Beaten by the clock, perhaps, but not by the passage of time. These guys still enjoy playing, and the audience still loves listening.


Magoo's music and gigs can be followed via The Sickroom Studio's website at

Post War Glamour Girls can be found at

Sunday 1 November 2015

And I'd like to dedicate this review of The Staves' gig at Norwich Arts Centre to... James Canty.

It is not often that a support act threatens to upstage the headliner, especially when said support act is actually part of said headliners' backing band. But more of that later.

It is Hallowe'en, and I have ventured from my traditional 'lights-extinguished-and-curtains-drawn pretending-I-am-out' anti 'trick-or-treat' policy, and have really, genuinely, actually gone out for the evening. Alongside 290 music-loving ghoul-avoiders I am rammed into the 14th century converted church that is the Norwich Arts Centre eagerly awaiting The Staves kick off their Autumn tour.

It's a few years since the Staveley-Taylors regularly performed for the open-mic nights at The Horns in Watford, and three years since they survived another summer of festivals to release their debut album 'Dead & Born and Grown'. Riding the renaissance of contemporary folk-pop and buoyed by the waves of success of Mumford and Sons and Laura Marling, the album did well, and The Staves first appeared here as headliners in April 2013.

Now they are back, older and wiser and with the traditional 'difficult-second-album' out of the way. They now have a four piece band in tow (including the afore-mentioned Mr Canty, but more of that later), and their own sound crew and techies. Quite an entourage for a small church in Norwich to accommodate. The first thing we learn, apart from the sisters' view that Hallowe'en, like Macdonalds, is now way too commercial and too American, is that the tour bus has been parked up the last two nights in a less than salubrious riverside location close to the football ground. However, it has provided the girls with a chance to explore our fine city, and so they are rested and raring to go with tonight's show.

They perform all but one of the songs off the new album, including 'Hopeless' which now appears on the extended version. I love everything off the new album but it only leaves enough time for 'Mexico', 'Eagle Song' and the beautiful 'Winter Trees' from Dead & Born. The arrangements are all hermatically tight, and the harmonies are every bit as exquisite as we have come to expect, although the introduction of  looping is a shame. Technically justified perhaps, but it somehow detracts from the purity of the girls' voices. There's a cover of Bombay Bicycle Club's 'Feel' and 'America' from the 'Blood I Bled' EP is thrown in for good measure. Appropriately, every number is dedicated to James Canty. But more of that later.

There are young children in the audience, so I'm not surprised that my personal favourite, 'Pay Us No Mind', doesn't make the cut, although do I miss that angelic delivery of  "Fare thee well, I don't give a fuck anymore". Still, there's a surprise awaiting us in the encore with a consoling new song, the heartfelt lament, 'Tired As Fuck'. 'Teeth White' ends, and then it is into the bar to collect our trick-or-treat sweets, and make a donation into the band's Syrian refugee collecting box.

And, finally, a quick word about tonight's support act, James Canty. For those of you who failed to arrive in time to hear him dedicate every single song of his set to The Staves, well I'm sorry but you missed out. Better luck next time!!!

The 'If I Was' tour continues into November, finishing with a sold out show at London's Roundhouse on the 9th. Full details on their website at , including a link to a free download in exchange for joining their mailing list.

James Canty, who jokingly apart, is actually very good and has an EP available, can be found on Facebook at . Looking like a cross between James Bay and Dave Hill (from Slade), his guitar work and poetic delivery is reminiscent of Richard Digance, Jake Thackray and Steve Harley. Very talented.

Saturday 31 October 2015

Cobblers to the Royal Family - Indie Folk at Norwich Arts Centre with Keston Cobblers' Club

Norwich used to have a thriving shoe and leather industry -  at its peak 26 factories employed over 12,000 people, and manufactured over 7 million pairs annually. Brands like Bally, Van-Dal, and Norvic were all produced within our fine city. Start-Rite received their Royal Warrant from The Queen in 1955, and I still remember noticing the graffiti crudely scrawled on the wall of their Mousehold Lane factory around the time of the Silver Jubilee, a crudely scribbled 'COBBLERS TO THE ROYAL FAMILY'.

This may have little to do with indie-folk music, or even the NME Best Small Music Venue, Norwich Arts Centre, but I have been drawn here tonight by the intriguingly named Keston Cobblers Club, supported by Wildflowers, a band I saw supporting Tom Odell at the UEA about two years ago.

Whilst I am aware of and familiar with several other musical 'clubs' - Bombay Bicycle Club, Two Door Cinema Club, Slow Club, and even a punk band I was briefly involved with at college, Baby Seal Club, most of these give away little from their names as to what to expect music-wise. Indian cuisine, film soundtracks and aquatic mammals were all, as far as I remember, noticeable by their lyrical absence or influence.

So, what of Keston Cobblers Club? Do the good people of Kent provide sufficient authentic inspiration to justify the podiatric moniker of this popular five-piece, other than the wonderful title to one of their songs 'We Will Heel Your Soles'?

Well yes actually. There really was a 19th century violin-playing cobbler who entertained drinkers within the taverns of Keston, and it was his story that inspired Matthew Lowe, one of the founders of the band, to celebrate and resurrect the story via the band's name.

As well as Matthew Lowe, his sister Jules and long-term friends from primary school Tom Sweet and Harry Stasinopoulos, there is now also classically trained tuba player Bethan Ecclestone on board. 'Wildfire', released this summer, is their second full-length album, and took the band beyond their brassy folk beginnings and into the territories of pop and indie-folk popularised by the likes of Of Monsters and Men. This was their third visit to Norwich Arts Centre, and they have already delveloped a loyal following up here in Norfolk.

First up, though, was Brighton/Bristol based 'Wildflowers' (without a 'The'). Described in their own publicity as 'bastard children of Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles', these guys have always portrayed themselves as free spirits yet seem to have nailed their influences firmly to the mast of Americana, even to the point of recording their debut album, 'On The Inside' in Detroit. I loved their performance two years ago when I saw them at the UEA, but was slightly disappointed when the album came out. It seemed to have rinsed out their authentic West Country charisma, even though the songs were still strong and instantly memorable. However, tonight's support slot totally restored my belief in them. Their setlist was pretty much unchanged from two years ago, and they seemed to have lost guitarist Kendal Sant for this tour, but the energy and chemistry between the two beer-swilling Bennett sisters and the surviving male James Ashbury simply exuded warmth and committment. Some of Siddy's stage posturing was a little full-on for a small venue like Norwich Arts Centre, but at least she'll be ready for the O2 Arena or Wembley.


Keston Cobblers' Club followed up with an impressive set, with a lovely balance of brass, accordion, keys and guitars, and Matt and Jules' harmonies effortlessly interweaving with the rest of the band. There's a hint of Mumford-first-album at times that certainly lifts proceedings above the niche appeal of die-hard folkies. There's an awkward pause whilst a set of batteries need replacing - no point in asking a Norfolk audience for a joke or funny story, that's your job in such circumstances, but all is well as the tale of Siddy (from Wildflowers) tipping her lager into Bethan's tuba at last night's London encore is regaled in the nick of time. Standout tracks for me included 'St.Tropez' and the title track from 'Wildfire', but still love 'We Will Heel Your Soles' and 'Maybe We'll Be Heard'.

After finishing with 'Dun Dun Dun' we are entertained with an encore from the floor with a wonderful version of Toto's AOR classic 'Africa', conjuring up more equatorial atmosphere than the American original ever mustered, and with Siddy Bennett keeping her beer in it's can and out of tuba bells as Wildflowers join the audience and band for one last stomp. This is one club I shall definitely be joining.

Buy 'Wildfire' from Keston Cobblers' Club's website at or from Amazon or i-Tunes

Similarly, Wildflowers' album 'On The Inside' can be purchased via their website at, as well as Amazon and i-Tunes.

Tuesday 27 October 2015

...and Our First 2015 Mercury Music Prize Nominee is SOAK.

Bridie Monds-Watson, from Derry in Northern Ireland, is still only 19 years old, but has been playing and singing since she was thirteen. Whilst her school friends were studying for GCSE's she was already gigging. By the time were taking A-levels and preparing for university it began to finally appear that, as SOAK., she was going to be recognised for her songwriting and set on a path for stardom. Her song 'B A NoBody' epitomised the frustration she must have felt during those early days, seemingly left behind as everyone else moved on.

Now it is all taking off. After appearing at two Radio 1 Big Weekends (including this year's here in Norwich), slots at Glastonbury, a European tour, and now her debut album, 'Before We Forgot How to Dream' being nominated for the 2015 Mercury Music Prize, SOAK. is appearing at Norwich Arts Centre, 'NME Best Small Music Venue'. After admitting that the Big Weekend gig was truly terrifying, she seems genuinely comforted to be back playing to 290 people.

Up until now, it has been SOAK. the solo singer and guitarist that has always performed live. Now, accompanied by drummer and bass/keyboards it is SOAK. the band, and in some ways now able to reproduce more closely the recorded versions of the songs off the album. However, for the first two numbers, including the opener 'Shuvels', it is Bridie and her guitar alone on stage. Only once we reach the first single 'Blud' does the band appear, and subsequently flesh out the sound.

Bridie herself is still fairly introverted and modest on stage, probably the exact opposite of the lively teenager that we hear about from the skateparks of Derry, but when asked how she is, admits to being '50:50'. It appears that whilst she was aping about on the tour bus earlier in the day, she ripped open her ear lobe during a fall (her trademark tunnel plug is masked by surgical tape). Not quite the sensible adult yet, then.

There are a couple of new songs, but the majority are off the album, finishing with a climactic version of 'Oh Brother' with screeching guitar and pounding drums. The encore is introduced as 'I Can't Make You Love Me', but is not credited to its composer Bonnie Rait. Similarly, I don't remember the band or the support act getting a credit either. Most probably a memory lapse rather than overt teenage pre-occupation.

Support comes from the lovely Rozi Plain, who I last saw performing at the Arts Centre alongside Kate Stables as part of 'This Is The Kit'. Tonight she is accompanied on banjo by Rachel Dadd, and the interplay of voices and mix of acoustic banjo with electric guitar is mesmerising. Rozi's voice has a slightly kooky but distinctly folky flavour - those old enough to remember Noosha Fox from the seventies might know what I mean. Having just flown in from a gig in Berlin the night before, and catching a train immediately after tonight's performance back to London for tomorrow's show at Union Chapel, Islington this visit may be brief, but gets a huge reaction. Highlights include 'Actually' (off the new album 'Friend') and the recent single 'Jogalong'.

Rozi Plain

Just a quick comment about the sound tonight. The mixing for Rozi's set (handled by Norwich Arts Centre's resident tech team) was absolutely spot on. However, several people leaving the show after SOAK.'s set were complaining about the volume, and the distortion of the vocals, during certain sections. I appreciate that SOAK. may have preferred to have her own team handling her sound, including the array of wireless mics feeding into their own mixing desk, but the volume levels were way off even from the first few strummed bars on acoustic guitar. Perhaps it was unfamiliarity with the intimacy of a small venue, or perhaps it is still early days performing live as a three-piece, but it was just a marring small criticism of an otherwise memorable evening.

SOAK.'s debut album (nominated for this year's Mercury Music Prize) is available from HMV, Amazon, and all good independent record stores, including Soundclash. Her website is at

Rozi Plain has her website at, from where you can buy any, or all, of her three albums.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Micachu and the Shapes, Pop-Op and Painted Heathers

I had been looking forward to this gig at Norwich Arts Centre for quite some time, certainly since well before the attempt to book them earlier in the summer of this year. Tonight it is actually happening, and we get a chance to see and hear Mica Levi's 'pop band' perform live on stage.

First, though, is a support slot from a new Norwich band - Painted Heathers. Formed only three months ago this is Brandon, James and Lauren's first ever live gig, and they have produced free CD's for the first fifty punters through the doors tonight. 'So Can I', the lead track has already been played on BBC Radio Norfolk, and is a good marker for their style of music, which is pop-based guitar, bass and drums and reminiscent of Dandy Warhols. Impressive debut, and thanks for the CD.

Painted Heathers

I have seen Norwich based Popop several times over the last couple of years, and I have to say I love his wonky lo-fi creations more and more with every performance. His trademark plastic skull is back tonight, but is tonight mounted on an old videogame joystick instead of residing as a microphone diffuser. In fact, Popop's appearance always reminds me of a modern-day Doc Brown creating electronic sounds and vocals from what looks like the contents of a Maplins clearance catalogue and charity shop junk. He is joined on stage tonight by Pip Cotterill on drums for an amazing half hour journey that not only has the audience mesmerised, but clearly leaves an impression on tonight's headliner as well. 


Mica Levi is indeed quick to praise Popop's set as she brings her band on stage to commence their set. Playing tonight as a three piece of Mica on guitar with Raisa Khan on keyboards and Marc Pell on drums. In fact, her pedigree and back catalogue of sounds created from anything from a vacuum cleaner to a collection of home-made instruments has made her the darling of the avant-garde, with a creepy soundtrack to 'Under The Skin' gaining a BAFTA nomination for best film score. 

Tonight's show, though, is all about 'the Shapes', and accompanies the release of the band's third studio album 'Good Sad Happy Bad'. The performance is not as experimental as some would have perhaps expected, and is carried largely by Levi's clattering guitar work and raspy vocals, a combination that contrasts and fights alongside Khan's gentler contributions and effects. This is a meeting of present-day anger and grime with the rhythms of early Talking Heads and the experimentation of Laurie Anderson, but the overall effect is a streetwise aggression that at times borders on self-obsession. There is certainly little time for niceties or engagement with the audience, hence the added significance of her tribute to Popop's performance. Certainly they both share that 'mad-scientist' air to the way in which they approach their music. A rewarding act to watch, and an intriguing album to listen to, but be prepared to put in the effort in order to pull out the substance.

Micachu and The Shapes

Sunday 18 October 2015

A large helping of Sweetbeats please, and a side order of Lobster

What is it with this part of the country's fascination with ska and reggae music? We must have one of the smallest indigenous Afro-Caribbean communities in the UK, and yet we have historically always loved the sound of Jamaica, going back to when I was at school in Lowestoft in the seventies, when one's degree of 'coolness' was measured in part by the amount of Trojan in your record collection.

The answer undoubtedly comes down to the sheer danceability of ska music, which manifests itself in many forms, from full-on skanking to a gentler chilled-out and more soulful varietal which has come to be tagged as 'Rocksteady'.

Two of today's Norfolk bands that can be almost guaranteed to sell out wherever they play locally are heavily influenced by Ska and reggae. One is the sweaty, laddish collective that goes by the name of Killamonjambo. The other is an 8-piece combo that have been a staple fixture of the Norwich scene since 2003 - The Sweetbeats.

I am at Norwich Arts Centre on a Saturday night in October, not only to lose my Sweetbeat virginity, but also to compare and contrast the local legends with a young group of funk and jazz inspired upstarts that are creating their own scene, and are supporting here at the NAC tonight - Lobster.

I have seen Lobster play several times over the last twelve months, and what I love about them is their unashamed love of 80's and 90's funk and soul, combined with an ability to build and blend onto a platform of jazz, samba and rock. Molly Holdom's vocal performance is restrained, and often understated, but complements perfectly Dom Trevor's energetic and conductorial sax playing, with which he holds together their movable feast of young talent focused around a core of eight players. Whilst I applaud their enthusiasm for what they do, and the large young following that they bring to every gig, they do sometimes run the risk of becoming slightly self-indulgent during a support slot. But, hey, that's show business. The world, literally, is your stage. Go grab it.


The Sweetbeats are every bit as professional and slickly presented as I expected. Their up-front duo of Saffron Paffron and Sophie Fox have the energy and panache that you would expect from an experienced outfit. The moves are slickly choreographed, and the set is proudly proclaimed by trombonist 'Professor Bonestawm' as being proudly '52% Sweetbeats original material'. The stage has been given a wonderful Autumnal feel with a makeover of Oriental parasols, and the outfits project an authentic 70's vibe.

The entire set is a wonderful homage to the decades of my youth and an opportunity to dance and immerse myself within a slickly presented 'Ronseal - does exactly what it says on the tin' experience. A ska version of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' shows that they are certainly not afraid to leave the box, let alone think outside of it.


As for comparing and contrasting - Sweetbeats win it hands down. Their entire stage show, from projections and stage-dressing to individual costume choices, demonstrates a production based on professionalism, experience and expertise. The slickness and synchrony that comes from hard work and practise has, and will continue to, fuel The Sweetbeats' shows. But, Lobster have the energy and dynamism that gives them the opportunity to continue on that forward trajectory to who knows where. Either collectively, or individually, those crustacean claws have the talent to clamber beyond the rock-pool of Norfolk.