Tuesday 21 February 2017

Nightingales in St Benedicts Street, Violet Kicks and Graceland, and not forgetting the FA Cup

The lure of the FA Cup reaches a peak of interest not when two giants of the game square up for 90 minutes of gladiatorial embattlement, but often when a large club is drawn against one of the smaller, lesser known outfits. Whilst the time-honoured tradition of warming up a music headliner audience with one or more 'support' acts is not a direct analogy, it is often the way in which gig-goers are introduced to new bands or performers.

But it works both ways. Tonight, whilst the mighty Arsenal FC are being entertained by South London minnows Sutton United, with the prize being a place in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, I am at Norwich Arts Centre mostly to see two of my favourite local bands play. The main attraction, though, is The Nightingales, a band formed in 1979 by four members of Birmingham's founding punk band The Prefects. Much loved by the late John Peel, and still championed by Marc Riley, I have to admit that I have never seen seen them live before. Yet the fact that no less than four other reviewer colleagues, whose opinions and musical knowledge I respect hugely, are here tells me that this must indeed be an essential band.

Fronted still by the imposing, and slightly intimidating, figure of vocalist Robert Lloyd, the line-up is completed tonight by James Smith on guitar, Andreas Schmid on bass, and Fliss Kitson on drums. Many on the Norwich scene will remember Fliss as a member of Violet Violet, a band that started as a four-piece, then became three, and ended up, with Cheri Percy, as a ferocious guitar and drums duo whose energetic style is still fondly missed.

Unlike so many of the still-touring punk pioneers of the late seventies, Lloyd makes no pretence of the passage of time by clinging to the safety pins, leather jackets or spiky hair stereotypical of those turbulent few years. Instead, he chooses a smart shirt and suit combination, his hair is neatly clipped on a low setting, and if he needs to wear spectacles then fuck it, he bloody well will. The resultant style package is a potent mix of performance poet, club doorman and local councillor. Apart from the occasional scowl there is little audience interaction, certainly no chummy anecdotes and not even an  introduction before, or thank you after, any of the songs. Instead, what you get is a growling stream of lyricism that is worthy of a John Cooper-Clarke but delivered in a vocal style that lies somewhere between Iggy Pop and Grindermen Nick Cave. Smith and Schmid, on guitar and bass, know exactly how to complement to maximum effect, whilst Kitson thrashes at her kit with dark hair flailing like Animal from The Muppets. It may be intense, and there are moments that are almost krautrock-like in their hypnotic and industrial  but the whole performance sucks you in, grabs you by the throat, and simply refuses to relax its grip. There is no encore, but perhaps that is just as well. I feel as though I have already done fifteen rounds with the musical equivalent of Mike Tyson.

But let us not forget those two support acts of whom I spoke earlier. I reviewed Violet Kicks only a few weeks ago for Outline Magazine, so would point you towards that for a deeper insight, but needless to say Jessie, Matty, Melissa and Conor nailed it again with strong stage presence, and songs such as the almost-hallucinogenic Scenes Distorted. And this is still only gig number four for this talented quartet.
Violet Kicks

Earlier Outline review of Odd Box Promotions gig including Violet Kicks

Although I quoted Graceland as being one of my favourite Norwich bands, tonight was actually the first time I have seen their complete set. Previously I have only caught snatched moments whilst volunteering on the NAC box office, or when dashing from one venue to another during Norwich Sound and Vision. Yet I feel as though I know this band so well. Stevie and Maxie Gedge played in The Brownies, an earlier band that also featured Sophie Little (of BBC Introducing and Radio 1 fame) on vocals, and whose album Our Knife, Your Back got rave reviews in both Q magazine and the NME. Stevie still plays bass, Maxie has switched to drums, and the Graceland line-up is now completed by Ellie Jones on guitar and Rosie Arnold on guitar, keys and vocals.

Rosie Arnold - Graceland

Tonight's set did not disappoint, although being on home turf with plenty of friends in the audience might have allowed a casual air to infuse the stage - their were a couple of brief intermissions between numbers, and Rosie's sardonic thanks to Norwich Arts Centre for booking them captured her wry sense of humour perfectly. However, the pedigree of all four members truly shone through tonight - Ellie is cool and detached, Stevie side-steps neatly from one foot to another as she propels each song forward with her inimitable bass playing, Maxie is thumping the skins to within a whisker of their lives, and Rosie's vocals are given just the right amount of reverb to bring it all together and deliver an auditory explosion on a par with sampling the finest sushi selection. Highlight for me was the single Fleetwood, a track that, ironically, contains one of the most addictive and memorable bass lines since The Chain. So, so good.

Music is nothing like football - the pleasure of a gig is in being able to savour and enjoy every act without partisanism or prejudice, to be able to appreciate talent in whatever form it presents itself, and be open and receptive to new experiences as well as enjoy the familiar. This gig tonight did that for me, and was in every way so much more enjoyable than watching eleven multi-millionaires struggling to kick the shit out of a team of part-timers in Surrey.



Graceland - Video for 'Fleetwood'

Monday 6 February 2017

Sofar Sounds in a Nuclear Bunker - Norwich Does it the Old School Way.

Josh Savage, Laura Goldthorp and Max Taylor provided the three musical courses last night as Sofar Sounds Norwich hosted their soirée at a secret location just up the road from the city's main railway station. Armed with wine glasses, cushions and our own refreshments we presented ourselves at the entrance to a genuine former cold-war nuclear bunker, where a bearded man check our names off against a clipboard before allowing us to step inside. If Trump loses the last of his marbles tonight, and it all kicks off, then as the missiles start to fly above our heads we will all be safely entombed, and listening to some lovely live music.

I love the concept of Sofar Sounds, otherwise known as 'Songs From A Room'. Starting in London in 2009, and since then spreading to over 200 cities across the world, Sofar Sounds now puts on over 100 private concerts every month. Audiences apply for tickets in advance, unaware of whom they will hear perform until they actually arrive. In the UK acts like James Bay, Bastille and Wolf Alice have all been known to show up and play Sofar Sound sessions. The exact location is also kept secret until a day before the gig. It may be a room in a private house or flat, or may be an office or back room of a shop. Either way, space will be small, and audience size will be restricted to just a few dozen. The gig will be intimate, and always rather special. No wonder, therefore, that most Sofar Sound sessions are over subscribed.

Josh Savage

Opening tonight in the retro opulence of Jason Baldock's recording studio housed within this bunker is Josh Savage, a Sofar Sounds veteran playing the final UK date of this tour before heading off to Paris. Armed simply with an acoustic guitar Josh casts a spell that bewitches his audience with gentle songs of love and unfulfilled dreams. With the likes of Bella, Whisper In The Snow and Lost In Paris, we are transported like butterfly souls, helpless to resist even the gentlest of lyrical breezes, although the jars of honey available from his merchandise selection provide suitably sweet distraction.

Laura Goldthorp

Local singer-songwriter Laura Goldthorp follows. Currently a student at the UEA, Laura's appearances are always something special, and tonight is no different. Whether it is the attentiveness of the audience, the acoustics of the studio, or Jason's legendary RCA ribbon microphone being used, her voice tonight seems even sweeter and more beautiful than usual. It combines the lightness of Lucy Rose with the emotional sensitivity of Laura Marling to devastating effect. In fact, it is a Marling cover, New Romantic, along with Leonard Cohen's Chelsea Hotel #2, that Laura chooses with which to intersperse her own compositions. Look out for future Laura Goldthorp gigs via local listing pages whilst she remains with us within this fine city.

Max Taylor

Tonight's three piece suite of Sofar serenaders was completed by Max Taylor, another singer-songwriter, who appears to play quite regularly in the London and Brighton area. Perhaps slightly more of an acquired taste, with a voice that reaches into the higher ranges usually inhabited by the likes of Morten Harket and Stephen Bishop, Taylor has an appearance that initially reminds me of Ralph Malph from Happy Days, and once that image is in my head there is seemingly nothing that will shift it. Taylor sings three numbers accompanying himself on Fender Mustang bass, and switches to keys for the other two. The bass guitar notes seem to generate occasional sympathetic vibration from what sound like cymbals elsewhere in the studio, and the keyboard is not his own, but one borrowed from Jason, but it is the strength of the songs that carries the performance.

So this was my second experience of Sofar Sounds, and one that I hope to repeat in the near future. For those interested in attending a future event, or even fancy hosting a session in your own home, head to Sofar Sounds' website and register. You may not know who or what you are going to hear, but it will certainly be an experience that you will not forget.

Thanks to Jason for hosting, Chad for compering, Georgie for organising, and all three acts for performing.