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'

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