Tuesday 6 December 2016

Kula Shaker's Back, so put the freshness back... (Crispian Mills' magic carpet cleans up a treat 20 years later)

For the last twenty years 'K' has remained a guilty pleasure of mine. Crispian Mills' concoction of Eastern mysticism and prog rock influences may have been dismissed by the critics as the self-indulgent project of a posh-kid with showbiz connections, but I loved it in 1996, and I still loves it now. Mills has grown up and is now a father to two children, has held true to his Krishna beliefs, and survived the badly-handled early press reaction to his comments about swastikas (the symbol was originally used as a Sanskrit symbol for 'good luck' or 'good fortune', but mischievous journalists tried to imply that Kula Shaker were somehow guilty of right-wing Fascist alliance through their adoption of it). When the '20th Anniversary of K' tour dates were announced back in June I immediately bought a ticket for the Norwich show. 

Six months on, and the novelty of these 'classic album' shows is beginning to wear off. In the last few weeks I have seen no less than five other bands performing 'anniversary' revival shows, and whilst I have enjoyed them all there is a danger that the old adage 'Nostalgia isn't what it used to be' could begin to ring true. And, besides, I am gutted that I am missing Kate Tempest's return to Norwich for her show at The Waterfront. But is there not some meditation technique (or failing that, hallucinogenic drug) that would provide an out-of-body opportunity to attend both gigs simultaneously?

Support for the entire Kula Shaker tour comes from three musicians from Folkestone, plucked from obscurity by Mills and given the chance to impress with their stampy blend of swampy blues-rock. Unfortunately, Rudy Warman & The Heavy Weather, use the opportunity to alienate me, not by their music (which is great), or their appearance (crusty eco-warrior), but by their arrogant between-song comments. Now, I have the utmost respect for those who hold strong beliefs and choose to follow an alternative lifestyle, but I feel slightly condescended to when it is assumed that, simply by being part of tonight's audience, I do not understand the issues at Standing Rock, or wish to continue to be carnivorous. And if I want to dance to your music, I will. I don't need Smart-Alec comments like 'There seems to be a lot of mud out there, 'cos your feet all seem to be stuck to the floor' any more than I need you to take your shirt off as some kind of evidence of the benefits of a vegan diet. You wouldn't like it if I took my shirt off to counter-demonstrate the effects of my pie and Adnams diet.

Rudy Warman & The Heavy Weather

Crispian Mills, by contrast, is as genial and as welcoming as one could hope for. After opening with a cheekily hi-jacked 'Kula Shaker's Crazy Hearts Club Band' (borrowed from a certain Fab Four) they give us Let Love B (With You) the new K.2.0 album, before getting on with the business in hand. Mills asks us to think of tonight's show not so much as a journey back in time, but as opening a door in time and bringing the past to the present. He reminds us of the ticket's promise to hear the 1996 'K' album played in its entirety, then playfully produces a vinyl copy of the album and a portable turntable. 'So, we will all listen to it together', he playfully teases, 'and then discuss it at the end'.

The atmosphere has already been prepared. Incense sticks have been burning atop Mills' ring of monitors, full length drapes featuring the 'K' logo and album artwork hang from either side of the stage, and above the drum-kit three projection screens synchronise kaleidoscopic imagery of Hindu deities. A lighting rig that reminds of the front half of a Louise Bourgeois sculpture straddles the back of the stage, whilst spotlight banks look on from the sides. Crispian Mills sense of the theatrical is certainly well-tuned after his directorial experiences.

The sound is joyously familiar as we work through the first half of the album. Bassist Alonza Bevan remains from the original line-up, as does drummer Paul Winterhart. Together with relatively new recruit Harry Broadbent on Hammond organ and keyboards, the re-creation is as perfect as one could hope for. Mills is suitably energetic in his performance, striking the obligatory poses but looking at times rather too much like Gareth Keenan from 'The Office' for comfort and total credibility.

There is a brief interlude between sides one and two, during which two B-sides are performed - Under The Hammer and the George Harrison tribute Gokula (containing a sampled riff from the Harrison song Skiing) as well as the single from Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts, Shower Your Love.

Side two features a further two singles, Tattva and Grateful When You're Dead, and the set ends with the Joe South cover, and hit single, Hush. By now we realise that one huge track from the album, the mighty Govinda, has been omitted from the album running order. Fear not. With the theatrical expertise of old pros Kula Shaker have kept the audience baying for more, and kept the best back for last. After an encore run through of two new tracks from K.2.0 we are duly given our chance to join in with the chanting of 'Govinda, Jaya, Jaya' until we are ready to leave for a higher plane. Or, in this case, the cold and foggy campus of the UEA.

Monday 5 December 2016

Low. And Behold. And, it's the final Sonic Youths Showcase of the Year

It has been a busy start to December. Goodness knows how people with jobs still find time to put up Christmas trees and go out buying Yuletide gifts for folk. I seem to have attended rather a lot of 'Classic Album' gigs of late. It started off with Sam Duckworth's new project Recreations and The Magnetic South performing his Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly album 'Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager' in its entirety at the Arts Centre. This was followed with similar performances of The Fratellis' 'Costello Music' at the Nick Rayns LCR, Terrorvision's 'Regular Urban Survivors', and Big Country's 'The Seer' (both at The Waterfront). And tonight I return to the LCR to watch Kular Shaker re-create their classic, 'K'. All of these albums are being toured to celebrate key anniversaries of their original release, ranging from 10 years for 'Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager' to an amazing 30 years for 'The Seer'.

After so much 'classic' music (revived with varying degrees of success, and with varying percentages of original band line-ups), it was good to have some up and coming artists to sample, via the final Saturday lunchtime Sonic Youths Showcase of the year, in the café-bar at Norwich Arts Centre. If you include the various festival outings during the Summer, the 2nd Birthday Party show, and the appearance at Norwich Sound and Vision, that makes a total of thirteen Sonic Youth events curated this year by the legendary Annie Catwoman. But, before I pass on my events of Saturday lunchtime, let me just say a few words about Minnesota band Low's return to the Arts Centre earlier in the week.

Once again I am forced to put up my hand and admit to being relatively unfamiliar with the work of husband and wife team Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker and their band. Formed in 1993, and gaining attention for their striking vocal harmonies, downbeat tempos and minimalist arrangements, Low have released a total of twelve studio albums. But it is their 1999 Christmas EP, an eight track mix of carols, seasonal classics and original songs that seems to have taken a place in the fans' hearts. At the time, even the NME called it "quite possibly the best Christmas album in the world… ever".

Low's Christmas shows appear to have become something of a tradition here at Norwich Arts Centre, and this year's visit has been sold out for months in advance. Together with Steve Garrington on bass and keyboards, and with opening support Erik Koskinen guesting on slide guitar, Alan and Mimi certainly worked their magic on tonight's audience. From where I was watching, there was an almost devotional air, bordering on pietistic reverence. Personally, being a fairly non-religious person, I found some of this slightly intense, to the point of deflecting my attention from the actual performance. The second half of the show, though, featured a selection of less spiritually doctrinal material, leaving me able to fully appreciate Low's vocals and musicianship. However, some of those present later wrote with high praise indeed, one describing it as 'possibly their best NAC gig ever'. Horses for courses, I guess.


Still, whatever you may have thought of Low's 'A Christmas Show' it was infinitely more welcome than the orgy of commercialism and spending that is about to engulf us as the 25th approaches. After the city centre's illuminations ignition celebrations, complete with Ed Balls, fireworks and with Disney-style imagery projected onto public buildings, the feeding frenzy is certainly now in full swing. On Saturday, Mustard TV got in on the act, taking over Millennium Plain for a Christmas Party event, and even the Christmas Coca Cola lorry is being invited to park up outside The Forum on Friday 9th. Remaining suitably impassive, I made my way through The Lanes to St Benedicts Street, and the Norwich Arts Centre.

Three acts were introduced to us, singer songwriter Kayleigh Watson from Wymondham, jazz keyboards from Norwich-based Omar El Oakley, and a four piece rock band, Off The Wall, from Colchester. And all, crucially, fitting Sonic Youth's criteria of being musicians aged between 14 and 19. (The fourth artist due to appear, Breeze Redwine, was unable to perform due to other committments).

Kayleigh Watson

Kayleigh Watson was handed the baton to open the session, and did it with total aplomb. I had not heard her sing before, other than via her Soundcloud page, but was mightily impressed. Looking comfortable and at ease, she confidently introduced each of her chosen self-penned compositions, personal songs about love and honesty, and a moving one about her late grandmother. The voice is clear, strong and with a distinctive timbre. The melodies are well constructed, and the overall effect is sit-up-and-take-note attention grabbing. Look out for her name on future gig listings in and around Norwich.

Omar El Oakley

The charismatically named Omar El Oakley is a keyboard player with a beautiful line in blues-infused jazz compositions. Classically trained, and sometimes known to record as his alter-ego Gary Mozart, this afternoon he is Omar, sitting behind his Yamaha keyboard and letting his improvised jazz vibe fill the café-bar area. Dressed casually in black roll-neck sweater, and with a sixties Jacques Brel hairstyle, Omar would not be out of place in a cellar jazz club on the left bank of the Seine, let alone an Arts Centre in the Norwich Lanes. He is not given a microphone, so some of his introductions do have to compete against the noise from the coffee maker, and I would have loved to hear him play the Art Centre's baby grand instead of an electric keyboard, but he is undoubtedly another local talent that we need to watch out for.

Off The Wall

Last up, and providing yet another seismic shift in mood and style, is Colchester based Off The Wall, who despite their age have already been together since 2009. They have played regularly at Colchester's Waiting Room venue, as well as at The John Peel Centre and at Landslide Festival. Even though guitarist Albert Wallace left Colchester in the Autumn to start university the band are still together, and still performing when they can. Front man and lead vocalist Fin Clark has great stage presence and a really strong voice that is capable of making an impression above Adam Looker's energetic drumming, and alongside Sam Warner's bass and Wallace's guitar. Although they refer to themselves as an 'indie-rock' outfit, and there are some modern influences in there, including Arctic Monkeys, what impresses an old timer like myself is the 'classic' rock sound that they also seem to bring to the table. There are opening shots of Motorhead with their first song, and some early Zeppelin blues riffs creeping into their single release 'Marvel Superhero'. Thanks to Annie for finding these boys, and bringing them to Norwich.

And that is it for 2016 as far as Sonic Youths are concerned, although the net has already been cast for those interested in performing at the next showcase. Get your demos into Annie by January 7th for the next scheduled showcase on February 11th. 

Thursday 1 December 2016

Pony Up for some Pins and a pint of Honeyblood. Cheers!

I owe a debt of gratitude to Pony Up. Since February 2014 when they picked up the reins formerly held by local music promoter Twee Off they have introduced me to some pretty damn fine music. Pony Up quickly established an enviable reputation for booking new and breaking national names, and matching them to some exciting local support. The idea was to lay on an evening of top quality acts, but with a ticket price that anyone could beg, steal or borrow. They commissioned Jo Stafford, of Print To The People, to produce artwork for the gigs, and even gave away limited edition prints to the first punters through the door at each event. Over the last two and a half years Pony Up has introduced me to the likes of Young Fathers, Kagoule, Declan McKenna, Micachu and The Shapes, Menace Beach, and God Damn, as well as giving me a chance to hear local favourites like Teen Brains, Collider, Peach Club, Claws and even Let's Eat Grandma. So, to Pony Up, I say, 'Thank you'.

For what is probably the last Pony Up of 2016, they change direction slightly, and bring back two bands that have played Norwich before. Both have each released second albums to critical acclaim, and, with all-female line-ups, have helped to challenge the status quo in a business that has a sorry history of being fiercely and protectively male-dominated. It was therefore a big welcome back to Norwich Arts Centre to PINS from Manchester, and Honeyblood from Glasgow.


PINS were formed in Manchester in 2011 by a fashion photographer, Faith Holgate, who enrolled cello-playing Anna Donigan to play bass, fellow guitarist Lois McDonald, and then persuaded Sophie Galpin to take up the drums. Later a fifth member, Kyoko Swan, would learn keyboards to complete the current line-up. The sound of their first album Girls Like Us probably owed more to Scottish rockers Jesus and Mary Chain than it did to the Manchester sound , but was then followed up last year with Wild Nights, recorded in America and showing a transition to a more open and wide-hued palette. They have played within our city walls at two Norwich Sound and Vision events, firstly in 2013 and then again last year at The Mash Tun. However, as is often the case with NS+V, there was so much going on elsewhere that I missed their set on both occasions. Definitely time to make amends.


PINS open with Trouble, released as one side of a 10" single earlier this year especially for Record Store Day. It is a dark and menacing number, a million miles away from the other 'Trouble' from nineties 'girl power' bubblegum pop band Shampoo. The Arts Centre stage is bathed in dark blue light, and the smoke machine is doing its business as Holgate's snarling refrain of 'Don't call me sweetheart' sets out their stall perfectly. The remainder of the set draws from both Girls Like Us and Wild Nights, the latter showing melodic touches that you could easily re-work onto a Beach House album, or in the case of the stomping Young Girls even give a contemporary country makeover to. Overall, though, they stylistically remind me a lot of The Horrors - moody and atmospheric, delivered with a huge amount of panache and style, but with occasional moments of pleasure-seeking sharpness. The one nod to their Manchester adopted home comes with a cover of Joy Division's Dead Souls, slipped in to the set without introduction or fanfare. Really impressed by PINS. Please, please come back and perform a headline set here before too long.

Glaswegian duo Stina Tweeddale (vocals, guitar) and Cat Myers (vocals, drums) have been together as Honeyblood since September 2014, although the band was originally founded in 2012 with Shona McVicar, who at the time was a dental student, on drums. The eponymous debut album was recorded before stick duties were handed over to Myers, and she had only just enough time to learn the songs before I first saw the band play at Epic Stuidios in Norwich in November of that year when they supported Superfood. (Incidentally, opening that night were local favourites Claws, my first ever time seeing them play live)


From a dark, packed stage with the five-strong members of PINS to a backlit projection screen and just a guitarist and drums combo placed on opposite sides seemed to leave an awful lot of space unfilled, and Tweeddale remains fairly static for the first couple of tracks, including Ready For The Magic from this year's 'Babes Never Die'. Even though the auditorium seemed almost full, and everyone seemed well up for a bit of a dance and a jump around (the Arts Centre had even obligingly put the safety barriers up ready for a bit of surge and bounce activity), the duo themselves seemed intent on a slow build. They featured mostly slow to mid-tempo numbers until about half way through when Sister Wolf  seemed to be the signal to raise the flag for a bit of audience calorie burning. From then on it was energy levels on high right up to the end, when Super Rat and Killer Bangs provided the seamless 'encore' - no walking off and coming back, just a warning that these really would be the band's final songs of the night.


Yet another blisteringly good Pony Up, although if I had to make the Sophie's Choice between the two bands I would probably go with PINS. That is not to say I would not make the effort to recommend, or go to see again, either of these two bands. I most certainly would.




Sunday 27 November 2016

Even Bohemian Teenagers Need a Recreation - Sam Duckworth Flies Without His Cape

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it. Everybody's doing it. Reprising their classic albums for live performance, that is.

Tonight I will be experiencing all the "Dah, da-da, da's" of The Fratellis' Chelsea Dagger for the first time in many a year as I watch them perform their debut album Costello Music in its entirety, ten years after release. Next month Kula Shaker dust down their robes to celebrate 25 years since K introduced Govinda and Tattva into common parlance. And on Friday night just gone Norwich Arts Centre played host to Get Cape Wear Cape Fly's Sam Duckworth treating us to a complete play-through of all the songs from 2006's The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager. Duckworth has also ditched his superhero associations, and now performs as Recreations with his band The Magnetic South. After having gotten my head around Mica Levi's band Micachu and The Shapes having morphed into Good Bad Happy Sad and confusing the hell out of me when they supported Savages at the UEA on Wednesday, this is all getting almost too complicated to keep up with. No wonder we old-timers need the familiarity of a classic album performed in track order, just to restore some order to our frazzled brains.

Savage Island

Friday night at the Arts Centre kicks off with local psych-punks Savage Island, a five-piece familiar to followers of the Norwich music scene for their rollocking shanties infused with Middle Eastern tinged melodies, trumpets, saxophones, various percussion enhancements, and some primal screaming. Yes, they sing as well, though it is the climactic instrumental numbers that normally get us moving early on into their sets. A great opener to any night, even if a lot of tonight's audience were a little tardy in arriving at the venue.

Dan Allen

Dan Allen is next up. Enormously popular in Norwich and beyond via his band Ducking Punches, Dan is performing a solo set tonight, his first back in normal shoes since breaking a leg during the filming of a video with the Punches in September.

Followers of the band have now bulked out the auditorium to give Dan support, and to sing along with some of the familiar songs. At this point I have to raise my arm and admit to never having seen Ducking Punches live before. Not through a lack of trying, it's just that the band don't play Norwich that often, being kept busy touring throughout the UK and Europe. I am impressed. Not only is the voice big and filled with passion, but the guitar playing seems to echo the sentiments contained within the songs. I am genuinely moved by some of the lyrics, and the issues of suicide, friendship and mental health that are being dealt with here. Top man.

Sam Duckworth fronts up a band that contains the usual guitars, bass, keyboards and drums/percussion, but in addition features two trumpets on one side of the stage and a flautist and violinist on the other. These players collectively form The Magnetic South, the appendage to Duckworth's Recreations, and producing all the flair and accompaniment required to bring the Bohemian Teenager songs back to life, ten years after the album's initial release.

There is a lot of pent-up energy in Duckworth. Thirty-something life has not dulled the fire in his belly, and the band serves as a melodic and rhythmic anchor to his bounding vocals and strident guitar strumming. The issues dealt with in the original release - poverty, multi-cultural tolerance, and social care seem even more relevant today, yet the Magnetic South manage to beautifully harness and enhance the mood without diluting the message. Today's issues of Brexit, Trump and mass migration somehow seem wholly relevant to this ten year old album, and the track Get Cape Wear Cape Fly with its observations of over-consumerism could not be more appropriate to today's Black Friday orgy of spend. 'Open your eyes, as you don't need to buy'.

I am a sucker for a well-blown flute (god, that sounds like a line from American Pie - "there was this one time, at band camp..."), and the haunting trumpets on Once More With Feeling provide exactly the right amount of lump-in-the-throat special-ness. Yet Duckworth is still able to hold court alone with his guitar, and his message.

We appear to have plenty of singers in the audience, all prepared to contribute some beautiful harmonies from the floor. As the final track, the ironically titled Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager (Part 1), builds to its climactic conclusion the refrains sung back from the floor build with it, and continue long after Duckworth and the band have left the stage, and the house lights have come up. Let's hope that the sentiments of this evening still resonate into the next morning and beyond.

www.facebook.com/alldrunkorchestra - Facebook page for Savage Island (formerly known as Juke & The All-Drunk Orchestra)

www.facebook.com/duckingpunchesuk - Facebook page for Dan Allen's band Ducking Punches

www.facebook.com/recreations2k - Facebook page for Recreations and The Magnetic South

Friday 25 November 2016

Lightscape, Kingdom Keys, Franko Fraize, and The Everlaine - and Twisted Melons All Round.

After spending Wednesday evening at the UEA for the highly anticipated return visit of Savages to Norwich - a gig that had several fellow reviewers described as their best live experience ever, I am back on the trail of Norfolk bands tonight at Norwich Arts Centre. Local promoter Twisted Melon has organised a a night headlined by Lightscape, and supported by Kingdom Keys, Franko Fraize, and The Everlaine. It promises to be a night that showcases three of the regions top alternative rock bands, together with Thetford's own rapping Danny Dyer - the irrepressible Breckland Ska-Man himself, Mr Franko Fraize.

The Everlaine

The Everlaine join the other three acts on this, the final night of a short tour by Lightscape and Kingdom Keys. I have seen them once before, almost two years ago when they opened for The Rumble here at the Arts Centre. The lineup appears the same, but the confidence of their playing has advanced beyond recognition. Vocalist Ellie's voice has so much power and clarity - even though she is dwarfed visually by the towering presence of Ryan on guitar, she can really carry a tune. That voice reminds at times of The Gossip's Beth Ditto, although you would never confuse the two in real life. I also love an energetic bass player, and Charlie provides that in abundance. He obviously gets plenty of E-numbers in his diet, but plays some tasty licks. Drummer Tom keeps a lid on things with some tidy and consistent stick work. I've no idea what an 'everlaine' is, but I really love this band.

Franko Fraize

Franko Fraize is now almost a local legend since having supported Mike Skinner in 2012, Rudimental in Thetford Forest earlier this year, and by dropping his famous Oi,oi's everywhere from BBC Introducing to the Reading and Leeds Festivals. Tonight, he seems more excited about being asked to turn on the Thetford Christmas lights than any of the above. He and his band did not arrive in time for a proper soundcheck, and are more concerned about organising a pint on stage than worrying about the levels. And this is why we love Franko. Yes, he may sometimes seem a bit cocky and laddish, but his enthusiasm, quick wit and energy are genuinely infectious. You simply cannot imagine him waking up one morning at home and announcing that he fancies a 'quiet day' in front of the TV. Respect.

Kingdom Keys

Kingdom Keys are a six-piece rock influenced band who formed in 2015. The six-track debut EP Beyond What You See reveals some lovely melodic tracks, led by the vocals of front man Sam Cook on acoustic guitar. Live on stage it becomes a little more congested, and the best sound mix actually comes when Cook swaps guitar for tambourine. Once again, there is a lovely bass sound, this time provided on the five-string by Jay Harrison, sporting what looks like a pair of Christmas slippers. Yo ho ho!

Will Overton - Lightscape

Headliners Lightscape have certainly pulled out all the stops in the presentation of this final show on their Autumn tour. Behind them is a large banner featuring their name and logo. Appropriately enough for a band with such a name, the spotlights, trackers, strobes and floods have been arranged and programmed to deliver a lights show worthy of any band to have played the Norwich Arts Centre. Copious amounts of smoke have been billowing out from the rear of the stage since the doors opened, meaning that the lights pierce the darkness with a power and intensity that Trinity House would be proud of. The band benefits enormously from the talent and experience of singer Will Overton. I remember Will from the EDP Next Big Thing competition way back in 2005, and from his band Lot 55 which he formed soon after. The highlight of their set is undoubtedly provided by the big guitar riffs and the echoing vocals on their new single Running, but sometimes it is a case of less is more, and I would love to hear some of those fine melodies in a more stripped-down form sometime, and without the smoke and illuminations. But, for those who were born to rock, this was a great way to end the evening.

All four acts tonight demonstrated once again what a wealth of musical talent we have within the county of Norfolk. When will the rest of the country wake up and give one of our bands a real break? Thanks to Twisted Melon Productions and Tristan Hinnis for a fine evening.

Thursday 24 November 2016

Adore Life, and Adore Savages. And the Good Sad Happy Bad. Enjoy It All.

I have patiently waited three and a half years for Savages to return to Norwich. Back in May of 2013, just after the release of debut album Silence Yourself, they played Norwich Arts Centre on a Saturday night. The Son and his then fiancé, now wife, were coming up for the weekend, and I tried interesting them in tickets. I failed. Instead, and in order to make some kind of a point, I bought the album from HMV whilst we were out shopping, and played it non-stop for the remainder of that weekend.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2015 and the line-up announcements for Latitude Festival are being made, and even though I know I will end up buying a ticket, I am still waiting for that one name that will tip me into action, and have me reaching for my credit card. One was Warpaint. The other was Savages. Warpaint, playing on the main Obelisk Arena immediately before Manic Street Preachers and Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds on the Sunday failed to leave a lasting impression. Savages, playing the day before inside the huge marquee that was the Radio 6 Music Stage, engulfed and overwhelmed me with their earth-shattering  and audience-consuming brilliance. I was in the front row of that audience and was left feeling that I had been part of a musical messianic experience.

On a dank Wednesday in November, Savages return from a Summer of outdoor festival shows to play the Nick Raynes LCR in Norwich, an indoor warm-up if you like for their show at Brixton Academy on Friday. With their second album, Adore Life, having been nominated for the Mercury Prize and adding a new testament to their gospel of post-punk revivalism, how will tonight's UEA gig compare?

There is some confusion about the support act. We are expecting Mica Levi (she of Micachu and The Shapes, and composer of that tingling and award-winning soundtrack to Jonathan Glazer's 2014 film Under The Skin, starring Scarlett Johanssen), yet the set times indicate that the openers will be Good Sad Happy Bad. Even as the three-piece combination of guitarist, drummer and keyboards/vocalist take the stage the penny has not dropped, and no introductory bones are thrown in our direction. Theirs is a relatively lo-fi sound, some neat keyboard effects, competent vocals, but driven along by some really tight drumming and some proficient, but almost nonchalant, guitar work from the far side of the stage. As the set progresses their is little in the way of song introductions or namechecks, and I have to admit that there is nothing that is instantly recognisable.

Mica Levi

Only afterwards, when it is too late, do I remember that Good Sad Happy Bad was the title of Micachu and The Shapes' 2015 album release, tracks off which would have been played during their visit last October to Norwich Arts Centre. What Mica Levi, Raisa Khan and Marc Pell have only gone and done is changed their band name to that of their last album. The clues were all there, I simply failed to acknowledge them. Were these the tracks that made up their opening set, or was it all new material? I am embarrassed to have to admit that my memory is not that good, and I have not heard Good Sad Happy Bad enough times to be able to conclusively answer that question. I apologise for not realising that the tousle-haired figure in baggy trousers and leather jacket was actually Ms Levi, or recognising the other two members of the band. But perhaps that was the point? By coming on stage and impressing us as much as they did in a semi-anonymous way, Levi and Co. had achieved their objectives. Making me wonder that this trio was some French small-town indie punk band plucked from obscurity by Jehnny Beth and Johnny Hostile could have been part of some cunning complicit Gallic plan. Who knows? I'm just glad that the truth became apparent in time for me to write this review. They have left me feeling good and sad and happy and bad.

The floor of the LCR has bulked out a little but is by no means full, even by the time the lights dim and a live recording of Leonard Cohen's 'A Thousand Kisses Deep' serves as an apt and moving introduction to Savages' entrance. Over at The Waterfront (the other UEA Students Union venue) The Damned are performing as part of this year's 40th anniversary of punk celebrations, and may have siphoned off part of tonight's potential audience. Oddly though, the audience demograph here seems depleted on undergraduates and late-teen/twenty-somethings, not the 1976 punk nostalgics.

 In fact, to those of us old enough to have seen The Damned back in the late seventies, Savages' front woman Jehnny Beth, with short dark hair slicked neatly back, dressed in black and white and performing against a monochrome stage, bears a striking resemblance to a young Dave Vanian. Like the Transylvanian prince of punk before her, Beth prowls the stage like a predatory panther, surveying her audience, making direct eye contact and engaging in one-on-one acknowledgements. But, unlike Vanian, she is not out to shock or alienate. In the true spirit of Adore Life tonight's performance is all about communion. It is about love and life, and loving life. It is still strongly aligned with taking no shit, and standing up for each other, but is also about beauty and sex and passion. Very French. J'adore.


Whilst Jehnny Beth snakes her way around the stage, she oozes style and works her voice into a primal force that we may try to label as Siouxie or Patti Smith-like, but in reality has now formed its own unique ipseity. Meanwhile bassist Ayse Hassan conjures deep throaty notes out of her instrument that are released with devastating precision. She bounces on her toes during the up-tempo songs, and sways seductively during the moodier passages, but always seems to know instinctively when to temper her playing so as not to swamp Gemma Thompson's frequent forays into spiraling swirls of sustained distortion, which themselves return to roost on majestically melodic passages. And perched on the plinth above them all is the beautiful Fay Milton on drums - the closest there can be to a percussive paradise, sometimes overlooked but so, so instrumental in powering the essence of the Savages sound.

The band plays for what must be an hour and a half, during which time we probably heard each and every song off both Silence Yourself  and Adore Life (although I don't remember hearing the gentler and sensitive Marshall Dear). There is the, by now, obligatory journeying into the audience by Jehnny Beth during Hit Me, a kneeling excursion that is curtailed only by the localised concentration of raised arms. Despite earlier calls for the entire audience to move forwards and fill the open spaces on the sunken dance floor of the LCR, many still remain at their vantage points atop the surrounding raised areas.

For those who chose to throw themselves into the small but tight mosh area in front of the stage this must have been an amazing performance, one to remember for years to come. After all, you never glance behind you to check what is happening at the back of the room. Viewed from slightly further back, and reporting as an objective observer, I would have to say that this audience was not quite as universally energetic as was present at Latitude, and Brixton will surely go absolutely ballistic on Friday, but let not that detract from Savages' determination to put on a good show for the good folk of Norfolk. Just remember that, as in life, the more of yourself that you are prepared to put into a Savages show, the more you will get out of it. Adore Life, and Savages will adore you. As those that today are nursing their bruised and battered bodies will testify.




Monday 21 November 2016

Kristin Hersh at Norwich Arts Centre - No Muses Were Thrown in Tonight's Performance

There is an oft quoted adage from those in 'the business' - You should never meet your hero. Well, I'm not really in 'the business'. I work on the box office at my local arts centre as part of their volunteer team, and I submit unpaid reviews to a popular local listings magazine and website. Essentially though, I remain a music fan who could not play a musical instrument to save a rowing boat, let alone the Titanic. My chances of actually meeting a 'hero' still remain as distant as discovering that the moon really is made of cheese.

The next best thing, then, is getting close. Now, by getting close I do not mean that creepy, sinister, hanging around, stalking kind of thing. I just mean that I prefer that potential chance of seeing a hero in a 20/20 vision setting, as opposed to on a giant video screen at an arena gig or festival. Smaller venues sometimes do throw up that opportunity. Tonight was one of those opportunities.

Kristin Hersh first came onto my radar in the mid-eighties when the eponymous 'Throwing Muses' album was released, a couple of years before a certain Kurt Kobain and his band really re-ignited a UK post-punk audience's interest in American reactionary rock music. Together with Tanya Donnelly the Muses gave the musical transatlantic equilibrium a much-needed West-East restorative kick in the balls.

So, here I am, at Norwich Arts Centre on a Monday evening for a much-anticipated evening with Kristin Hersh. I am still not quite sure what to expect. Billed as 'An Evening with Kristin Hersh', this could be anything from a curated interview with musical interludes, to a full-blown gig.

So, what we actually get is a beautifully structured mix of songs performed by Kristin, a series of lyrical readings, and the occasional verbal interlude. It is a solitary display, yet remaining at times somehow slightly detached from us, the audience. She admits that she had been warned about playing 'new' songs, that they were a sure-fire way to alienate an audience, but that is not the case. We show our appreciation in the usual way, and enjoy the between-song readings from the book (whilst appearing unclear whether or not to applaud these as well). Her voice is laid-back Southern perfection, a tortured but strangely detached and desolate reconstruction of Cobain and, dare I say it, Cerys Matthews (albeit without the Welsh lilt). She picks at and strums her gorgeous chestnut and cream Fender with self-assured familiarity, and uses the bottom two strings in a rich and sonorous manner, creating at times the illusion of bass guitar riffing.

What we do not get is any extended interaction, confession or anecdotes from her 35 years in the music business. There are a couple of introductions - Detox is preceded by a story about feeding copious amounts of gazpecho to the local hookers, and Sno Cat prompts a story about storming out of the house after a verbal fight, but most of the set is simply an ordered procession of lyrical readings alternating with personal songs. And who could be disappointed with that?

We leave at the end of the evening with the satisfaction of having been in the presence of a musical hero. Yes, she is also a mother to four kids, and may have had a complicated back story, but she has chosen not to share that with us. This was not a soul-bearing performance, but a performance based on soul. And I absolutely loved it.



Kristin Hersh's latest release is a hardback book of essays and lyrics, with two CD's included. 'Wyatt At The Coyote Palace' is available from Amazon at www.amazon.co.uk/Wyatt-Coyote-Palace-Kristin-Hersh/dp/1468313819 , and from all good retailers.