Monday 21 March 2016

DIY with Tigerclub in Norwich - a Grand Slam of a Night

I have to be honest. I'm here at Norwich Arts Centre tonight because of a free magazine. No, not Outline, that finest of gratis publications that confidently tells us where to go every night of every month here in Norfolk's fine and only city.

No, I speak of DIY, that essential monthly read for music fans nationally, or those that are too tight to part with hard earned cash for Q or Mojo, but do not want to rely on the opinions of the now 'free' NME with all its Topshop and HMV sycophancy. I know that DIY also has bills to pay, and they also embrace 'the hand that feeds' with their advertising revenue but, somehow, DIY seems to do it with more grace and style.

And, after treating us last year with a memorable Doc Martens gig at the old Owl Sanctuary last year in the company of Palma Violets, they are back in town again with a date on their 'Mapped Out' tour for up-and-coming bands featuring a double bill of Tigercub and Bellevue Days.

Unfortunately, not only is it a Saturday night, but the climax of the Six Nations rugby has meant that the France v England game is live on television. So it is a fairly small crowd that starts the evening as local band Marigolds take stage to kick things off. A young four piece who, unusually, position non-singing bass player Tom at centre stage, whilst vocalist Joe is confined to the shadows with his baseball cap deflecting the spotlight off his face. Their take on a familiar indie-surf sound is pleasant enough, and the playing seems competent. Perhaps the best number is the as yet untitled number which we are warned "could go horribly wrong". In fact, it turns out to be the highlight of their set, with fierce bass playing feeding the rhythm and lead guitars with dynamic effect.


Bellevue Days are from Croydon, which they helpfully inform us is in London. Obviously they have got us down as a parochial crowd. Now, without wanting to get into a spat over this, I'm not sure what typifies the 'Croydon sound', but their Sonic Highways inspired offering seems about as typically 'London' as Anglia Square. It's not that it's unpleasant, and the playing is punchy and tight, but it just doesn't awaken the Kraken or cut the Colmans for me. The new single Pepper Tea is probably the spiciest track on offer, but they still would benefit from a little more seasoning, and some more original recipes.

Bellevue Days

Tigerclub, by contrast, come out firing on all four cylinders, which for a threesome is somewhat impressive. Hailing from Brighton, and not afraid to growl as well as purr, this is more like what I had been hoping for. If you are going to carry a torch for grunge then do it unashamedly and rub some south coast salt into the wounds as you go. Tracks like Blue Blood show how to take a simple idea and make it your own - surely the gateway to success for any up and coming band.


Bathed in alternating lights of red and blue, punctuated with pinpoint shafts of white, the analogy of Brighton's sixties musical heritage is not lost on us tonight, but this is the same city that recently spawned both Years and Years and Royal Blood. And perhaps that is where Tigercub steal the advantage over Bellevue Days. To be a part of an incredibly varied musical scene opens the mind to all sorts of ideas and creativity. Perhaps Croydon is just that bit too close to London to carve out its own identity and express it musically?

Saturday 19 March 2016

Mick Flannery - A True Irish Gentleman at Norwich Arts Centre

We are indeed privileged tonight in Norwich. Mr Mick Flannery, singer-songwriter and former stonemason from Blarney (no, you couldn't make it up could you?) in County Cork, is playing a short UK tour of six 'intimate' venues. Last night was actually St Patrick's Day, so Mick was in London playing the Royal Albert Hall (well, the Elgar Room within The Royal Albert Hall but why spoil a good story?). Tonight we are at Norwich Arts Centre, the fans are mingling with the friends and family, and the Guinness is flowing. One couple have come up especially from Colchester, and are dismayed to find that their last train home leaves at 10.00pm. Flannery is not due on stage until 9.45. But more of that later.

Two singer-songwriters are supporting tonight. The first, Tilly Dalglish, is from Bury St Edmunds, and whilst she is still only 17 years old she has already spent one summer playing the festival circuit, including Folk East, as well as appearing in Norwich at The Bicycle Shop. Her voice is soft and gentle, and she picks delicately at her mandolin whilst she sings. Quite beautiful.

Pip Mountjoy from Yorkshire may be a couple of years older, but has not wasted any time in carving out a name for herself. After being supported by BBC Introducing she played Glastonbury in 2013. Her voice is stronger, and her guitar playing places her firmly into the 'folk' arena, yet she also has contemporary influences fighting just beneath the surface. Check out the standout track from her set The Killing Kind to see what I mean. 

Mick Flannery gets a warm welcome as he takes the stage to commence his set. The couple from Colchester are still here. After hearing of their predicament, hotel arrangements for Mick's family have been hastily re-arranged to free up a room, so no-one has to go home early, and everyone gets to see the full show. What a gentleman.

A couple of songs in and we can see why Mick Flannery's last two albums have gone straight to number one in his native Ireland. His gentle manner and amiable introductions are backed up with an incredibly rich and soulful voice. A lot of the songs are based on heartbreak and love, but there are also moments of lighter relief (literally in the case of The Small Fire). 

There are covers of songs by both Bruce Sprinsteen and Tom Waits, which give away some of his songwriting influences, but it is his own compositions that really tug at the heart. For those present tonight, myself included, who came out of curiosity rather than familiarity, we left Norwich Arts Centre feeling warm and enriched. And full of Guinness. 

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Nice One Natty! - A Little Touch of Notting Hill Comes to Norwich

There's an odd thing about the Norfolk music scene, and I need someone to at some point explain it to me. In spite of having one of the least multi-cultural demographs in the entire country, and a reputation for being a bunch of tractor-driving inbreds, ska and reggae music is hugely popular in the county. Whether it be our own home-grown bands like Killamonjambo and Dumbfoundus, or visiting acts like The Wailers, UB40 and, more recently, Nubiyan Twist, if there's one gig likely to sell out in Norwich it will be the reggae or roots bill.

Somebody once told me that it all goes back to the days of the Foundation Sound in West Runton in the late 70's, later transferring to Norwich via Anglia Square, but I know that Great Yarmouth also had a vibrant ska scene and welcomed UK acts like Madness and Bad Manners to the seafront in the 80's and 90's. As a teenager growing up in neighbouring Lowestoft in the early 70s  I remember several of my Levi Sta-Pres, Brutus and Doc Martin wearing friends encouraging me to listen to anything and everything released on the legendary Trojan label.

Either way, Californian born but North London bred musician Natty (or Alexander Akiloe Philip Modiano to give him his real name) is going to be well happy that tonight's visit to Norwich Arts Centre has sold out, especially immediately before visits to the more ethnically diverse Bristol, Nottingham and London. That's right boy. Narr-wich is ready to skank.

But first up, starting her support slot to a mere handful of the audience present, but fresh from her well-deserved third place in this year's Next Big Thing competition, is Norwich's own Maya Law. From the roller-coaster ride of the finals at Open to the coalface of playing the gigging circuit, this is unfortunately the reality of plying your trade as support act to the big names. You are the warm-up, filling in time whilst the audience arrives and tanks up in the bar before coming through for the headliner.

I am pleased to report, though, that by the time she finishes her set the auditorium has filled up considerably, and she gets an enthusiastic and appreciative round of applause. It's not the best set she's turned in, but the experience will do wonders for her confidence.

Natty is preceded onto the stage by his four-piece band, who immediately strike up a laid-back rootsy groove. Natty himself is a diminutive but smiling figure in patterned baggy trackies and pastel top, with his dreadlocks neatly contained within a blue turban-styled headscarf. It is not long before the audience comes alive, singing back every word of his biggest hit from 2008, the beguiling 'Bedroom Eyes'. I'm not sure what he was expecting from a Norfolk crowd, but he seems genuinely taken aback by the reception, and by the fact that we haven't forgotten about him during the seven year wait for the follow-up to the debut album 'Man Like I'.

The rest of the set features tracks from the new album 'Release The Fear' - the likes of 'Street Lights', 'Stand Up In Love' and the new single 'I'm Alive', as well as older favourites like 'July' and 'Afrika'. It's a real mixture of ages in the audience, right down to a little lad in ear defenders, who can't be much more than three years old, right up at the front with his mum. The atmosphere is probably the nearest we will ever get to Notting Hill Carnival in St Benedicts Street, although still probably seems quite surreal for Natty and the band.

By the time the set ends it is already ten past eleven, and there is no encore, but quite clearly a dose of sunshine has been administered in Norwich tonight. Nice one, Natty.

As we say in Norfolk.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Wolf Alice - My Love is Now Cool

It's hard to believe, but it's almost fifteen months since I last attended a concert at the University of East Anglia's Lower Common Room (LCR), and that was for Submotion Orchestra. This is a venue that has soundtracked my entire musical life, from the prog-rock of Caravan, the ambience of Tangerine Dream and the folk of Steeleye Span n the seventies, through the alternative comedy of Ben Elton in the eighties, and the Brit Pop and Indie of the nineties and noughties. Nick Raines and his team brought to Norwich some of the biggest bands of the day, and the annual NME Awards Tour was always must-see date in the calendar, whatever it took to secure a ticket.

Now I'm not going to say that the LCR is no longer capable of punching above its weight, but these days with franchised chains of venues like the O2's mopping up entire tour schedules, and arenas creating demand for aircraft hanger performances, contriving spectacular stage designs and light shows to lull us into false appreciation for our inflated ticket prices, it cannot be easy being a student venue. Thank god that the UEA Students Union still has the flexibility of the Waterfront and Waterfront Studio to at least maintain the flow of new music in lower-capacity venues through this fine city. Unfortunately it does now mean that the LCR has tended to become a destination for dinosaurs, dance acts, and club nights. Even the NME (now a shitty giveaway rather than a serious mirror of musical tastes) doesn't even come any closer than Cambridge.

But I digress. I am back tonight to see a band who have become the darlings of teenage indie-kids over the last couple of years, Wolf Alice. Funnily enough, it was at this very venue that I saw them perform a disastrous set supporting The 1975 back in February 2014. After about three songs, a guitar packed up leaving Ellie Rowsell without an instrument, but free to leave the stage and provide vocals from the floor. Bass player Theo walked off stage apologising for 'being shit', but their attitude and swagger stayed with me. Let's hope they can exorcise those ghosts tonight.

First up are the intriguingly-named Bloody Knees. Reassuringly British in their looks and demeanour, they are a band that have been dipped into a packet of Grunge and emerged with a faint aroma of teen spirit. They have healthy skin, long-flowing locks that have been shampooed as well as conditioned, and jeans and t-shirts that have been laundered with care. If they ever did have a bloody knee, I'm sure that Mother and a Band-Aid would never be that far away. They are way too lightweight for Reading or Download, but heavy enough to frighten the picnicking families from setting up camp within the marquees at Latitude.

Bloody Knees

Crows, however, have a much meaner and darker agenda, and produce a swirling cloud of guitar and distorted vocals that is genuinely hypnotic. If Bloody Knees were a bowl of musical granola, then these guys are the over-salty porridge that Goldilocks would be well advised to leave on the table. Front-man and vocalist James Cox grapples alternately with two microphones (and sometimes both at once, like a pair of sonic Nordic poles) and pumps out lyrics that may be sparse on  melody but twist and contort in a monkey-man manner reminiscent of  Ian Brown. These are a band that really can expect to take a place on the bloodline of  corvine legends that goes back to Maggie Bell's Stone the Crows, and includes The Black Crowes and Counting Crows (but probably doesn't include carrion crooner Sheryl).


Wolf Alice take to a darkened stage, with guitarist Joff Oddie leading the intro astride a monitor at the front of the stage, before unleashing into Your Loves Whore. The stage lighting rig is modest, and there's a twinkling backdrop derived from the album cover of Your Love Is Cool. We seem to alternate between the cool of misty greens and the warm glow of incandescence, the latter melding with the orange t-shirt and black jeans of vocalist Ellie. The set runs through the by now familiar tracklist from the album, with a couple of numbers from the earlier EP's thrown in as well. In fact, the only track from My Love Is Cool which I don't remember hearing is Soapy Water.

The predominantly young crowd are in second heaven, surging and forming mosh circles when not waving arms in massed adoration. From my position of sanctuary adjacent to a pillar at the top of the steps (there's no way I want to be accidentally targeted as a suspected sad-act gig-groper), one thought keeps coming back to me. This is all lovely, and I'm glad all the instruments are working, and everyone's having a ball, but where are the new songs? I appreciate that life has been one frenzied whirlwind of promotion and accolades since the album was released, but it would have been nice to have been given some clues as to which direction the band sees themselves headed next.


After the formula encore of Turn to Dust, Blush, and Giant Peach, the house lights come on, and I make my way out of the LCR wondering if mine is the only love that has cooled slightly. They were good, they still are good, but where do we go from here?

Friday 11 March 2016

Sonic Youths and the Next Big Thing - More Local Talent Than You Can Shake a Stick At

It was a long, but extremely pleasant way to spend a Saturday. Whilst friends were getting up early to catch the coach to Swansea, I had a nice leisurely start, with fresh coffee and bagels, then jumped onto my scooter for the quick flit through city centre traffic to my favourite parking spot just outside The Forum. Whilst the Norwich City faithful were still on the outskirts of Swansea contemplating the destiny of eleven men in green and yellow I was perched on a stool in the café/bar of Norwich Arts Centre, supping a pint of Lacons Falcon and awaiting the first of eleven musical acts - four at the lunchtime showcase organised by Sonic Youths, then a short break before watching seven finalists decide the outcome of this year's Next Big Thing final at Open's magnificent banking hall in the evening. Certainly a day of two halves, and no need for any jokes about getting two whales in a car.

Sonic Youths opens with Ellie Bea, a confident young singer-songwriter and keyboard player who started performing with the Norfolk Youth Music Theatre, aged just eight. Her voice is technically good, and her theatrical training has taught her how to stand, and how to hold the microphone exactly right. She now writes her own songs, and it is during the introduction to one of these that we learn her back story and history of  bullying. She and her mother have since started an anti-bullying charity 'GR8 AS U R', and very good luck to them. However, from that point I became worried that her set became a little too evangelical. All credit to her new-found confidence, but it contrived to make her stage persona less natural, and lacked warmth and informality.

Ellie Bea

Two-man Dog Fight were next, Callum Grainger on guitar together with Reuben Cocksedge on drums. It's a frequently encountered line-up combination at the moment, but Dog Fight add an unusual twist by incorporating both rock and the blues to produce a sound that sets them apart from other up-and-coming guitar-drum duos. The rock is competent, but is the lazy Delta authenticity of Callum's guitar work that really impresses, and is so rarely encountered with acts this young.

Dog Fight

Sadie Nencini is still only 15 years old, and comes to Sonic Youths via The Garage in Norwich. Some of her self-penned songs are so new that she hasn't even got around to titling them. She is extremely nervous, despite massive support from friends and fellow students in attendance, and this unfortunately affects both the consistency of her voice and her ability to look directly out to her audience. It is a shame, because a couple of the songs have real potential.

Sadie Nencini

Last up is JazTec, a collaborative project between Lobster front-man Dominic Trevor and beatmaker Alex Guy. This is a live debut for the two, and the combination of ambient electronica and live saxophone is sounding good until a few technical gremlins start to manifest themselves. To be honest, it is the boys' frazzled expressions that give the game away - what we are actually hearing is really quite good.

Jaz Tec

Next Big Thing Final, Open Banking Hall

And so on to Open for the final of this year's Next Big Thing competition, sponsored by Outline Magazine and Future Radio, and with a cash prize of £500 for the winner from Access to Music.

By now we know that Norwich City are coming back from South Wales without any points having lost 0-1 to Swansea City, but at least we can rest assured that we are guaranteed one local winner tonight at Open.

All seven finalists have performed already during the semi-finals held in February in the club bar at Open, a much smaller and less intimidating venue than tonight's vast banking hall. It is not therefore necessary to re-hash my previous notes on the musical style and content of each act, or to muse over those not lucky to have made it through to the final. For my comments on each of the 14 semi finalists, go to for a reminder.

The running order is decided by a draw, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest, with the poisoned chalice of pole position being given to Lobster. The advantage of going first is that you are probably playing to the largest audience - although tonight's crowd are more likely to stay all night and hear the final result. The disadvantage is obviously that you have to storm it as an opener in order to keep uppermost in the judges' mindset.

The size of the stage can be intimidating for those used to performing in pubs and clubs. Some, like the nine members of Lobster, fill the space comfortably, even using the extra space to throw in a few choreographed turns and dance steps (although they are not yet in the same league as Earth, Wind and Fire). Others, like Real Life Charm, can spread their percussionists and keyboard players a bit further apart. Dazy Crown and Savage Island both use the extra space to throw a bit more energy and physicality into their performance than was possible in the semi-finals.

The acts most likely to find the size of the hall daunting are the solo artists, and Clyde Automaton is one who possibly does not perform as well as previously. Singer-songwriter Maya Law looks amazing with the atmospheric back-lighting, but is once again in danger of letting a fit of the giggles de-rail her, and the sound engineers have added a little too much reverb and echo to her voice (which she doesn't need). Catnip and Claws actually looks more comfortable on the larger stage - possibly we are more engaged with the impressive visuals on the large screen and are therefore sparing her from the direct glare of several hundred pairs of eyes fixed on her and her two laptops.

The judges, who include singer-songwriter Beth Orton, retire to consider their verdict, whilst we watch a video presentation on what last year's winner, Harry Edwards, has been up to over the last twelve months. It certainly highlights just how much contribution to the music industry is made by electonic artists like Harry, who do not necessarily conform to everyone's pre-conceived ideas of how an electronic musician works and performs.

After the period of deliberation tonight's compere Robbie Powell welcomes Future Radio's Kate Roma onto the stage to announce the winner.  Maya Law is awarded a well-deserved third place, the highly regarded Real Life Charm take second place, and the winner is announced as female electronic artist Catnip and Claws. I must admit, she won me over tonight, and her victory was well-deserved, although she herself seems surprised and overwhelmed. She has already packed all her equipment up, having not expected to be invited back to perform a reprise as the evening's eventual winner.

She is awarded the prize, a cheque for £500 provided by Access to Music, and seems genuinely delighted to have won. Bravo to her. In becoming 2016's Next Big Thing she is pushing boundaries and proving that electronic music, and in particular female composers, can and will continue to put Norfolk on the contemporary musical map.


Catnip & Claws

Maya Law

Real Life Charm

Savage Island

Clyde Automaton

Dazy Crown

And, as I made my way back home through Trowse at about 11.30pm , the football coaches were just peeling off the Southern by-pass and returning to Carrow Road. I felt like shouting out, "I'll bet I've had a better day than you!"

Sunday 6 March 2016

Seagulls or Eagles? No, it's the bloody Eagulls from Leeds

The story goes that at a drunken holiday camp karaoke the lyrics to a Shaggy number, Angel, mistakenly came out as  'Girl, you're my Eagle'. True or not, in 2010 four Leeds lads became Eagulls and started a band that took no prisoners when it came to media-bashing or shandy-drinking southerners. Their debut album is about to be followed by Ullages, and a short pre-launch tour calls in tonight at Norwich Arts Centre. There are three support acts. It's going to be a busy evening.

Leaning against the edge of the stage with just a guitar and sequencer, together with the biggest pedal and effects board this side of Ed Sheeran's lock-up, and all fed through a tiny amp on the auditorium floor, is Eagulls driver Stuart Smith, aka 99 Watts. Performing in a darkened hall with just two side spots providing illumination, a small crowd gathers, mesmerised by the ambient looped guitar sounds coming from this inauspicious performer. It sounds at times like a 21st century Mike Oldfield, but without the tubular bell distractions. Part improvised and part complex melody patterns, this is no 'wheels-on-the-tour-bus-go-round-and-round' indulgence, but an unexpected delight with which to start the evening.

By way of contrast, Soyuz Rats are a fearsome guitar and bass combination that knows no fear. Primal shouting and screaming makes way for a swirling crescendo of noise and effects that paint a dystopian landscape of Orwellian proportion. Their music could become the re-make soundtrack to '1984' or equally Gilliam's 'Brazil'. Intensely atmospheric, especially when bathed under blood-red spotlights, this felt as much a soundscape installation as it did a gig performance. And, they are from Norwich. Yay!

Soyuz Rats

Flipping into yet another parallel universe came Brighton-based Fear of Men, commencing with lead singer Jessica Weiss performing underneath a white muslin shawl. There are immediately reminders of the first incarnation of School of Seven Bells, with a dreamy atmospheric vibe helped along with a rhythm of almost hypnotic proportion. The shawl is eventually discarded, and the mood progressively lightens like a sun rising over an Eastern horizon, until the auditorium is bathed in a gloriously warm ambience. I like these a lot.

Fear of Men

Eagulls created waves early on by being almost antagonistic to everyone and everything in the media residing south of Watford Gap, as if only gritty Northerners knew what it was like to be out of work and hungry. Not true, my friends, and with the imminent release of follow-up album Ullages they now appear more conciliatory to our non-clog wearing way of life.

Lead singer George Mitchell, complete with curtains-bob haircut and full length duffle coat, is now looking uber-cool, and whilst the rest of the band still look more like salesmen from the Hagley Road, Birmingham branch of GuitarGuitar than actual rock stars, one gets a sense that we may be witnessing an evolutionary progression in their outlook as well as their music.

The playing is still as intense and aggressive before - new tracks like Euphoria and Blume leading the way after opener Lemontrees, but the original angst of Tough Luck, Yellow Eyes and Nerve Endings remind us of the anger that preceded. But whilst Mitchell moulds the delivery of the lyrics in a mix of Robert Smith disdain and Joe Strummer urgency, and struts around stage, the rest of the band are happy to keep to their marks and simply play their woollen socks off. The crowd are enthusiastic and react with some boisterous surging and embracing bonhomie.

The entire performance is backdropped by a screening of the original version of Fritz Langer's Metropolis, overlaid with the band's bannered logo. Together with Mitchell's microphone enhanced effects from a small table-mounted tape-recorder in centre-stage, Eagulls are beginning to appear almost art-house in their dynamic.

Who would have bloody thought it?

There is no encore. I'm not even sure if the planned set reaches its conclusion. It's half past eleven and a quick 'Good night' is followed by a swift exit and the houselights come up. Have we climaxed? Is this the two-fingered 'farewell, Norwich' ? Or is it simply that the plug has been pulled upon reaching the venue's curfew? We may never know. But we embraced the new Eagulls with all our Norfolk hearts.

Friday 4 March 2016

British Rejects at 'The Cut' - Lowestoft Comes to Norwich. Yay!

First an apology to both Chalky Seas and to Mila Falls. It's not that I didn't want to catch your sets, I really would have done so if I could have made it to Open in time. 'The Cut' is a marvelous opportunity to showcase this region's musical talent - a physical manifestation of the fantastic work done in promoting local artists by the event's co-organisers BBC Introdudcing and Outline Magazine. Even if I could only catch one of the three acts tonight my £3 ticket would still be a bargain in anybody's book.

I therefore have to rely on feedback from those present and a little bit of internet research of my own to find out what I missed. Currently there's only one track online that I can find from Chalky Seas, and its a mid-tempo indie-folk affair that goes by the name of Plastic Friends. Pleasant enough, and I love the idea that their new single Cavalier was actually inspired by an old Vauxhall estate car. Probably much more worthy of seeking out for a listen than their name suggests. Unfortunately Chalky Seas sounds far too 'murky-North Sea' and not enough 'West Coast sunshine' to potentially attract the casual passer-by.

Norwich-born Mila Falls has carved out quite a name for herself in the world of house and electro, and played at our own Sundown festival last year. Tonight's set at Open is a more pop-based performance with new material displaying a definite nod towards 80's Disco. She is backed by a live guitarist and drummer, but apparently let down by an intermittently malfunctioning backing track. I only catch the last song of her set, which sounds great, but I almost wish that, for a small intimate venue like the Open Club stage, she had treated us to an acoustic set. Having heard unplugged versions of songs like Radio on YouTube it would have been really cool to have experienced that great voice up close and personal.

As a Lowestoft boy myself it is always a pleasure to see a band from my own hometown (even The Darkness), and British Rejects is a great name with which to sum up the dis-affection of an entire generation from the faded glory of a once great fishing port and seaside town. My authenticity-alert therefore goes off immediately when I see a tousled guitarist sporting a Jack Wills t-shirt. However, that aside, the four lads really put on a spirited show to those still remaining (and it really is a shame at these local showcase events that the friends and fans of the initial acts don't always stay for the entire show). Ryan Redwood makes a great front-man, bursting with enthusiasm and energy. They are not nearly as punk or heavy rock as I was expecting - I would put them more in the camp of Foos-referencing-Undertones - but Owen, Andrew and Sam together put in stirling performances to make British Rejects look and sound like a properly tight band. If they sounded as good as this on their recent UK tour they will have proved great ambassadors for their home town. All in all, this was a great climax to this, the second edition of 'The Cut'.

The next edition of 'The Cut' is scheduled for April 15th, and features Franko Fraize, Claws, and Maya Law. Full details at :

Wednesday 2 March 2016

Telegram, Warm Brains, and Painted Heathers at The Waterfront - Oh, and let's not forget the football either.

It has been something of a challenge to make it to The Waterfront tonight. I have had to forego a volunteer meeting for this year's Norfolk and Norwich Festival (mind you, I did manage to submit my online application form earlier in the day), and had to get myself over to Oak Street to finally collect my Piaggio scooter which had been in dry dock for the last two weeks having a new fuel injector fitted. Add to that the huge influx of traffic into the city for tonight's Premier League football clash between Norwich and Chelsea, and you can imagine the disruption to normal travelling times throughout the city.

Anyway, I've made it in time, got my scooter back (which has saved me the frustration of having to search for a car parking space close to King Street) and have arrived at The Waterfront with minutes to spare. And all because of a band I first saw at Festival No6 in Portmeirion two years ago. Telegram were one of a number of bands I saw for the first time that weekend, and was really impressed by their tight retro sound and their stage presence. It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that it has taken this long for a headlining tour and a debut album to follow.

Opening tonight is a local band who performed their first gig back in October of last year at Norwich Arts Centre. Painted Heathers consist of Brandon Jacobs on guitar and vocals, Lauren Rose Smith on bass, and James Lloyd Kerry on drums. Then, they were giving away demo CDs to the audience, tonight they are launching their debut single Little Steps.

Painted Heathers

I liked them then and I still like them four months on. Brandon is clearly the driving force, and the most accomplished musician of the three. He looks a little bit like a young Terry Hall, and the music has that same 90's feel - melodically in the same camp as Colourfield but with a far riffier guitar sound. Lauren plays bass well within her capabilities and James keeps the pace steady. It all sounds good, although at times it would be nice to just crank the tempo up a notch, although this is still only gig number three. Watch these grow and flourish.

Now I'm not much of an offal eater, and I have to admit that Warm Brains came across as a bit of a budget dish. Frontman Rory Atwell gives good value for money with some effective guitar work and rock and roll posturing. He is still remembered from his time with Test Icicles, and has since turned his hand to engineering and producing with artists like Palma Violets and Yuck, as well as tonight's headliners. However, tonight his own vocals sound at times a little flat, and whilst his colleagues may not look quite as Camden High Road as he does, they definitely make a valid contribution to the band's energy. With an album to promote, and track titles like Languid Tarmac kick-starting our imagination, Warm Brains may well appeal to those dining off the trendier musical specials boards. For the meantime though, I prefer mine chilled or piping hot. And, lets not forget, we have our own Teen Brains to tickle our taste buds in Norwich.

Warm Brains

Now, whether it was the glorious autumnal sunshine of 2014 Festival No6 that put me in such a receptive mood for new bands, or the magical setting of Portmeirion village, or simply the copious quantities of local ale, but Telegram tonight failed to ignite for me like they did that weekend. Which, for a band that has only just released their debut album Operator, comes as a bit of a surprise. Perhaps, in re-working the songs just a little too much prior to the recording process, they have lost some of their initial charisma. I remember them drawing proudly in influence and style from the glam-era, and serving up a seventies musical bouillabaise - their were fine lumps of Bolan, Bowie and Roxy Music floating around in a swirling cauldron of guitars and Chinnichap beats, yet they had their own identity and contribution to add by way of seasoning.

Now, the roles seem to have reversed, and their own ingredients are fighting for domination in a watery minestrone of tribute band pastiche. Only the Bowie cover, Heroes, saved it for me tonight, despite the leather jacketed coolness of vocalist Matt Saunders. The remainder of the set, although tight and played with gusto, never regained the previous ground lost. In striding out to become contemporary they have in actual fact shuffled several steps back. Sadly, they may have discarded the very thing that made them initially sound so fresh. Ironic for a band that has named themselves after a means of communication that today's audience may not have even heard of, let alone used.


And, as if that wasn't bad enough, Norwich City lost  their football game as well.