Wednesday 7 June 2017

Is This The Machine They Are Secretly Building, or is it just a Proto-Type?

Big Brother is watching? Ever since 1949, when George Orwell published his dystopian novel, 1984, conspiracists and libertarians alike have continued to warn us of a society that unwittingly allows itself to be scrutinised and monitored in minute detail. A database of recorded conversations, messages and images held for our own benefit. To protect us. For our own good.

Tonight, sixty eight years later, and with the horrors of Manchester and London Bridge fresh in our minds, Lincoln-based performance company Proto-Type brought their acclaimed show A Machine They Are Secretly Building to Norwich Arts Centre.

Within the space of just over one hour, and with the aid of a series of projected images and graphics, performers Rachel Baynton and Gillian Lees take us on a journey that begins in Whitehall in 1943 and propels us into the near-future, as our government and their security services' role in protecting us from perceived and potential enemies is put under the microscope.

As technology develops exponentially, then so does the storage capacity of the databases required to contain the bank of intercepted images, telephone conversations and online footprints of our daily lives. All unwittingly gifted away by our acceptance of the T&C's of our internet providers and mobile phone companies.

There is so much information presented within this show that you will almost certainly want to buy a copy of the script. Fortunately this is available at the end of the performance. But even if you try to wing it, and head off home with the image of Rachel and Gillian's balaclava-clad challenging resonating within your consciousness there is still much to stimulate thought. 

Why, for example, do we appear so keen to purchase dashcams for our cars, and download apps onto our mobile phones that allow us to check up on everything from intruders on the drive to the nursing care employed to look after our ageing relatives, and to monitor the childcare to whom we willingly delegate our parental responsibilities?

If you had the opportunity to view footage of a deceased loved one, or remember what you looked like fifty years ago, would you not log on to a retrospective version of Google Street View?

This is a brilliantly presented and thought-provoking show that I would urge you all to see. Agree, disagree, or just sit in the middle ground and allow this data be collected and catalogued, you will not leave without your mind buzzing with food for thought. 

And maybe a little bit of concern.

Proto-type Theater will be presenting There's A Machine They're Secretly Building  at the Edinburgh Fringe from 15th - 27th August. 

Monday 5 June 2017

It Was Never Going to Be an Easy World - David Ford at Norwich Arts Centre

Back in January 2003 I took my then fourteen year old son to Norwich Arts Centre for one of his first ever experiences of a live music gig. The band was an Eastbourne trio by the name of Easyworld, and we both came away from the evening as big fans of the band, and also of the venue.

Alas, Easyworld were not to survive beyond 2004, although I would still recommend their two albums from that era, 2002's This Is Where I Stand and its excellent follow-up Kill The Last Romantic.

Although the band split, lead singer David Ford went on to release a string of solo albums, beginning with 2005's I Sincerely Apologise For All The Trouble I've Caused and culminating with 2014's The Arrangement. Critical acclaim followed, with return visits to Norwich Arts Centre in 2006 and 2007, and an appearance at 2010's Latitude Festival, being included among my re-acquaintances.

Despite collecting a loyal fanbase, receiving rave reviews from The Sunday Times, Word magazine and The Daily Telegraph, and writing a hit song for French superstar Johnny Halliday, commercial success still eluded Ford. He even went on to write an autobiographical account of his experiences in How To Nearly Make It In The Music Industry.

Anyhow, I digress. It is 2017, and I am back at Norwich Arts Centre. It is a Saturday night, and David Ford is here for one of ten UK dates in June accompanied by Michele Stodart (of The Magic Numbers), and New York City singer songwriter JP Ruggieri.

And it is JP Ruggieri who opens the evening with a gentle set of self-penned songs, mostly from his forthcoming album - of which sneaky advance-of-release copies were available at the merch stand. Ruggieri plays his guitars and sings, whilst Michele Stodard accompanies on bass and Ford is on keyboards. And this is what proves to be the formula for tonight's show. Each of the three artists has taken the time to learn and play each others' material, apparently with very little rehearsal time, but in so doing deliver a collaborative performance brimming with warmth and mutual respect. Some in the audience clearly remember JP from his appearance here just a couple of months ago supporting Jarrod Dickinson. Others will be queuing to buy tickets for his return to The Bicycle Shop on the 27th of this month.

JP Ruggieri

After a short break the trusty trio return to the stage, this time with Michele Stodart performing from her catalogue of material - open and honest songs with lush melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Quite different from songs written with brother Romeo for The Magic Numbers, Stodart abandons the bass to accompany herself on guitar whilst Ruggieri and Ford play alongside. Like that other 'gurning' bass player, Esme from Haim, Stodart pulls some awesome expressions out of the bag as she works through her set, but the voice is stunningly beautiful. As well as knowing her from The Magic Numbers, some of the audience will have seen her appearance at Norwich Arts Centre earlier this year alongside Ben Watt and Bernard Butler.

Michele Stodart

David Ford, as well as being a brilliant musician, is also an engaging and eloquent host, and we are not long into his set before we are hearing his views on the music industry, and also on the state of the global economy. The latter is borne out of an explanation of ideas and themes from his as-yet-unreleased new album -  it is the consequences of the way in which our banks were bailed out with public money that seems to irk him most.

David Ford

Like many other visiting artists who play the Arts Centre, Ford seems impressed with Norwich, even if St Benedicts Street is the yardstick being used to reach that conclusion. A suggestion from the audience that he explores Prince of Wales Road is given short thrift. But what again comes out of this set is the cameraderie and connection that clearly exists between these three musicians, and also with Irish drummer Phil Wilkinson. Although the posted set times suggest a one hour headline set and two thirty minute support slots, these four musicians have, to all intent and purposes, played for the entire evening with just the briefest of intervals, and the quality has been superb throughout.

David Ford is one of a growing number of artists who find the whole process of 'the encore' to be fake, and insulting to the intelligence of the audience. 'Why else', he asks, 'would a performer deliberately hold back their greatest hit or latest single on the assumption of receiving sufficient applause to justify an encore. Instead, and with the curfew approaching, Ford, Stodart, Ruggieri and Wilkinson choose to end the evening with a hugely fun version of The Knack's 1979 hit 'My Sharona', probably the least expected song ever with which to finish this evening of beautiful music.

Nobody said it would be an easy world.

Didgeridoos and Didgeridongs - Sonic Youths at Norwich Arts Centre

This was certainly one of the most intriguing and varied of  the Saturday afternoon Sonic Youths showcases that I have had the pleasure of attending at Norwich Arts Centre, and it was good to see the Adnams Mission Hall Bar buzzing on this, the first weekend of Summer.

And, as I settled myself at the bar with a pint of Wolf Brewery's Golden Jackal (3.7% ABV for all you real ale nuts - a honey-ish pale brew with a deceptively moreish flavour), Annie Catwoman's megaphone trill called the house to order and welcomed our first act to the stage, with a warning about anticipated volume levels, and the offer of earplugs to those with sensitive ears. 

For this was Ten Wxlves, the alter-ego of fourteen year old electronic bedroom composer Harley Riecansky, whose set features a blistering barrage of beats, samples and dub-step bass that is totally engrossing and hugely enjoyable. Referencing everything from Daft Punk to Pendulum to Fatboy Slim, Harley makes the whole process seem so slick and easy. And that is not just idle praise from an old-timer who still has serious problems setting his i-Pod to 'shuffle'. This was the sound of a young man who had had every foot tapping, as well as a few dance steps thrown by the youngsters present. Hugely impressed.

Ten Wxlves

Next up was possibly the most bizarre act to grace the Sonic Youths Showcase, ever. I would suspect that sound engineer Conor has never been asked to mike up a didgeridoo before, but that is exactly what was required for the next act. Featuring three guys whose busking is familiar to many around the streets of Norwich, and whose 'Just Doo It' t-shirts leave no doubt about the good-time vibe and dominant instrument employed, The Didgeridoods are exactly what it says on the tin - CiarĂ¡n Skipper swapping his trombone for something a little more antipodean, and augmented by Oskar Beckley on African drum and Izaac Adam on cajon, cowbell, and anything else he can hit his sticks on, which apppears to include chairs, tables and bar surfaces. The 'doods' take us through a free-form set happily seated on the floor, which is possibly another first for Sonic Youths, before inviting former Lobster sax-man Dominic Trevor to accompany them on the final flourish to their set, the imaginatively titled Didgeridong. Free-form and respectful Aboriginal-inspired jazz on a Saturday afternoon. Just love it. If you see these 'doods' busking around the city please drop a polymer-based fiver into their hat, although I am assured that nickel, brass and copper based products are equally acceptable.

The Didgeridoods feat. Dominic Trevor

Third act up is local singer songwriter Finn Doherty, and someone who I have seen perform several times before. Very confident, and very accomplished. Not only in his singing, playing and songwriting skills, but by his ability to embrace technology, and loop his own voice and rhythms into performances. I love his own material, and would certainly recommend his Heritage and Parenting EP. Particularly like the Jaztec remix of Bruv, and the Stevie Wonder cover of  So What The Fuss. Look out for Finn appearing alongside Leaone and Hydra Lerna at The Owl Sanctuary on June 15th.

Finn Doherty

Finally, and certainly not least, is Wymondham-based five-piece Tuesday Club. Never seen them before, but see lots of summery potential in their sound, which seems to include Wham!, Vampire Weekend and Friendly Fires in their influences. You'll get a chance to see them again at Bury St Edmunds' Homegrown Festival (9th - 11th June).

Tuesday Club

So, as we filter out into the summer sunshine, the sound crew are already prepping for the evening's show - a triple header led by ex-Easyworld frontman David Ford, together with The Magic Numbers' Michelle Stodart and Connecticut-based guitarist JP Ruggieri. A gig which I will share with you later.

And don't forget that Sonic Youths will be hosting acts on Norwich Arts Centre's Stage outside The Forum on July 8th, part of this year's Young Norfolk Arts Festival. Lineup is rumoured to include Cabrakid, Lobster, Midnight Zoo, and Maya Law & Allergy Kid.

Saturday 3 June 2017

This is The Age of Anxiety - PIXX at Norwich Arts Centre

Showing once again just how astutely Pony Up keeps a finger firmly on the pulse of everything that is happening in the world of music, my first gig of June sees me at Norwich Arts Centre on the very day that PIXX, 21 year old Brit School graduate Hannah Rodgers, releases her debut album 'The Age of Anxiety'.

The band has a few more live dates before the festival season kicks off, and this was a first chance for me to see PIXX live before she re-appears in the DIY Alcove Stage on the Friday at Latitude.

The evening starts a few minutes late - traffic problems mean that bands have been late to arrive at the venue, and soundchecks have been delayed. It is Leeds-based trio Caro that open, and I am initially just about on the right side of lukewarm about them. There's a bit of Two Door Cinema Club and a bit of Little Comets, but nothing to really get excited about. However by the end of their set I have warmed to them quite a lot. There are some really interesting lyrics, and an almost folky texture going on with the guitars. Best tracks were 'Cold Comfort' and 'Closet Lunatic'.


Next up were old friends of Norwich Arts Centre - they even played at a friend's wedding reception here last year. Manningtree four-piece Superglu are always so energised and seemingly up for a good time that you know you are going to enjoy their performance wherever they play. They even headlined the Soapbox Stage at last year's Folk East, with a chaotic acoustic set that was a sheer delight to watch. Tonight was no exception. Superglu are also booked to play this year's Latitude Festival.


PIXX is touring with a three piece band consisting of guitar, keyboards and drums, leaving Ms Rodgers free to concentrate on vocal duties. The band are tight, and the sound is slightly louder and less ethereal than I remember from the album. Those expecting nothing more than an effervescent blend of electro-pop along the lines of Little Boots are immediately caught off balance by a moody, almost menacing, first number which PIXX delivers with an intensity that contrasts sonically as much as does her combination of patterned dress and black rubber-soled biker boots. But underneath lie layers of really beautiful words and melodies that demand your attention. Once again, there is a folk sensitivity in the lyrics, and an honesty and approachability that draws you in to the performance. Whilst you can hear rhythmic influences of bands like Lemon Jelly in 'I Bow Down', and more than once I am reminded of the palette of Peter Gabriel's earlier albums, there is also a really strong narrative throughout songs like 'Baboo' and 'Fall In' that remind me of the late Kirsty MacColl.


PIXX's performance is very much one of yin and yang - there is a side of the music that is light and almost fizzy in a danceable way, yet balanced against a worldly-wise cynicism and concern for the world that is almost worrying in one so young.

Because of the late running of the evening there is no time for an encore, but this has been a performance of quality that has already filled the tanks to overflowing. To hear more we will have to return to Henham Park in Suffolk in July and make a beeline for PIXX's Latitude appearance.

Thursday 1 June 2017

Sink Ya Teeth into Norwich Arts Centre

It is the last day of May, and I am at Norwich Arts Centre to see Sink Ya Teeth celebrate the launch of their new single 'If You See Me'. They recently signed to 1965 Records, and label-mates include Nadine Shah who played the Adnmas Spiegeltent in Norwich just over a week ago.

Sink Ya Teeth are Norwich musicians Maria Uzor (previously Girl in a Thunderbolt) and bass player Gemma Cullingford. Both are well known on the Norwich circuit, but it is since teaming up together that Maria's distinctive vocals and Gemma's intense bass playing  have sparked a chemical reaction of unstoppable force. They return to Norwich Arts Centre after supporting Californian dance-punk band !!!

Those who remember Maria from her Girl in a Thunderbolt days will still recognise those stripped back beats, and vocals reminding you of Grace Jones but also of Nadine Shah as well. Now, with Gemma adding a pulsating bass, Sink Ya Teeth become the fusion of previous incarnations but with dance rhythms and synth lines intensified and distilled and reminding at times of Joy Division and electro-pop darlings Goldfrapp. This is music that grabs you by the throat but also makes you want to wrestle free and dance.

Highlight of the set is when Maria invites onto the stage friends who danced on the video for the single 'If You See Me'. There follows a glorious three minutes of freestyle movement behind the band's concentrated and obviously joyful performance. This is a triumph and the reward for Sink Ya Teeth - a huge crowd to welcome them home to Norwich Arts Centre, a record deal with a national label, and a debut single that sells out on vinyl even before the gig has ended.

The encore is a song called 'Substitutes', but the truth is already out there. There is no substitute for Sink Ya Teeth.

Painted Heathers

Support came from Painted Heathers, a three piece led by guitarist and vocalist Brandon Jacobs. This is the third time that I have seen the band, and I have always been impressed by Jacobs' playing, vocals and stage presence - a bit like Graham Coxon and Damon Albarn morphed into one multi-faceted persona. What has come on in leaps and bounds, though, are the contributions made by drummer James and bass guitarist Lauren. The threesome are now looking and feeling like a cohesive band, and their final track 'Messed Up' is a real climax, with the band walking off stage as guitar feedback continues to fight and force its way through to the speakers.