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Local troubadour Paul Jeans has had more musical lives than a cat, and opens proceedings tonight with his most recent incarnation, The Shooting Of… featuring just him on acoustic guitar and piano (not at the same time), and drums (at the same time!). There’s a morbid edge to his songwriting, with one song about a serial killer, and another probing the inner workings of a terrorist’s brain. Despite the sometimes uncomfortable subject matter, the music is upbeat and catchy: ‘Captain Of My Soul’ brings things back to a more conventional topic and is the standout song tonight. Jeans is always good value as a superlative songwriter and multi-instrumentalist; one wonders how many more skins he must shed before the world wakes up to his charms.
Cattle and Cane are from the rock metropolis of Middlesbrough, but clearly aspire to sound as if they’ve never left Tennessee. Appropriately enough, they’re all related to each other, further reinforcing their backwoods/backwards credentials. Even though they are capable of radio-friendly country-influenced pop-rock, occasionally they manage to conjure a brew so heady it wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of a remade Deliverance, the stunning vocal pairing of Joe and sister Helen Hammill melt together like two candles on a sunlit porch, there’s twangy Fender action and even an enthusiastically-bowed fiddle at the end. All the appropriate genre boxes are faithfully ticked, and when set highlight ‘The Poacher’ comes to a climactic end, the question on every sensible member of the audience should be – can Goldheart Assembly top that?
To which the answer is – yes, but with a sidestep into more considered, perhaps even self-confidently aloof territory, rather than the genre-led intensity of the previous act. There’s a strong reliance on harmonies, with the vast majority of the lead vocal lines shared in an intimate bromance between James Dale and John Herbert – indeed, the whole performance relies on their rapport. That, and Dale’s habit of standing on one leg, a habit not seen since the glory days of Jethro Tull. This isn’t a performance for those looking for the ultimate in excitement – everything is very civilised, with the occasional whiff of gentleman’s club (and not the raunchy kind either). At one point Dale gently heckles the audience, whilst gently sipping from a cup and saucer – no risk of a G ‘n’ R-style Jack Daniels breakfast for these chaps.
However, what may seem a little tame from a rock ‘n’ roll perspective does suit the easy-going yet complex material. Old favourites like ‘So Long St. Christopher’ still sound fresh; there’s a decent selection from excellent début album ‘Wolves And Thieves’, including ‘Hope Hung High’ and set-climaxing ‘King Of Rome’, along with the expected inclusions from recent release ‘Long Distance Sound Effects’. The sound does roughly belong in the folky-rocky camp, which description could apply to a great number of new acts around at the minute, but the songwriting is top drawer, complex yet supremely listenable and laden with melody and hooks, which makes them stand above the crowd of also-rans. In summary, then, this is a thinking man’s band, perhaps themselves no stranger to the pages of The Chap magazine, who appreciate a lovely melody or two. All washed down with a nice cup of Earl Grey.
Teddy boys, punks, goths, metal heads, ravers… the desire of humans to conform to a pre-existing group, and to display that choice through their choice of clothing, haircut, piercings, tattoos and other personal paraphernalia, must be a source of constant fascination to sociologists. Perhaps it’s a modern expression of a primal flocking instinct: the concept of “strength in numbers” expressed through an agglomeration of pop culture-derived behaviours.
Quite how an individual comes to choose a particular group isn’t clear. It may be a response to conditioning, either positive or negative – perhaps a rebellion against overly authoritarian parenting, or in tribute to a particularly charismatic performer. Elvis Presley is no doubt responsible for more bequiffed foreheads than anyone else. What unites all the groupings mentioned above is that they primarily take their inspiration from a particular genre of music, indeed the music and the fashion are irredeemably intertwined; neither could exist without the other. A perfect symbiosis of visual and sonic aesthetics.
Which brings us to Temples, a band who wear their influences on their sleeve with a rare devotion. It’s no secret that they covet psychedelia, but there’s a root of glam rock contributing a much-needed weight to the sound, ensuring there’s never any risk of floating away on a cloud of paisley incense. Previous single ‘Colours to Life’ is a case in point: the lead track is a dreamy patchwork of twelve-string guitar and lazy vocals set well back in the mix, drifting into the brain with no effort at all.
B-side ‘Ankh’ is a much more assertive affair; there’s a big bassline, fantastic ’70s snare action, and an enormous synth-led chorus. Properly uplifting stuff, and far more than a simple “psychedelic” tag would lead you to expect. Latest single ‘Keep in the Dark’ unashamedly harks back to classic ’60s psych-pop, with a hint of ‘Emily’-era Pink Floyd, but the marching rhythm section from before keeps things moving nicely.
Lead singer James Bagshaw is himself a one-man tribute act: he’s wearing his mum’s 1971 polyester blouse in lipstick red with gold threads running through it, an admirably tight perm, and dabs of glitter on both cheeks, all adorning his etiolated frame. In other words, the very essence of glam chic. For all those here who missed the ’60s the first time round (er… that’ll be all of them, then) this is a useful demonstration of how ’60s psychedelia transformed into ’70s glam.
And even now, their sound is still fresh. Yes, there’s a revival of interest in anything psychedelic at the moment, which doesn’t harm their cause, but even without that, the quality of their songwriting would stand out. And the popularity of psych means that, if there’s never been a gang for you, one more just got added to the list. It just might be your thing.
Lithe, lovelorn Lancastrians The Heartbreaks are back (not that they ever went away – The Heartbreaks are surely one of 2013’s hardest-working bands), with the first single from their forthcoming sophomore album. ‘¡No Pasarán!’ not only has a Spanish title (which translates as “they shall not pass”), it lovingly mimics the gimmicks of Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western soundtracks: castanets, muted trumpet, and even his trademark stabs of percussive bass vocal. Although the phrase “¡No Pasarán!” has a history of political connotations, particularly from its use in the Spanish Civil War, as far as can be discerned, this is still a love song, perhaps with a struggle at its heart. Despite the genre stylings, it still has the essential Heartbreaks songwriting chops, and the earnest vocal couldn’t be mistaken for anyone but Matthew Whitehouse.
The new album doesn’t have a release date, or a title, but there are glimmerings that the band might be gearing up to unveil it – there’s a couple of free shows in London and Manchester coming up next month. Unfortunately they’re both sold out, but no doubt a number of new songs will be showcased there. The PR twaddle frames their new material as a “riposte to the all-conquering Age of Beige the UK currently finds itself in” – quite how a country with such a vibrant music and arts scene (of which The Heartbreaks are a notable, but still small part) can be accused of being beige is quite unfathomable. Perhaps they should get out more. But that over-excitable press release aside, this release moves The Heartbreaks’ story on nicely, and bodes well for the forthcoming album.
You can download the Heartbreaks’ ‘¡No Pasarán!’ for free by signing up for their mailing list in the widget below. You can also stream the song below as well. We’ll keep you posted on the band’s second album release date as soon as it becomes available.
TGTF last visited the Communion Club Night in March, and we were suitably impressed by the quality of the acts on offer that a return visit was always on the cards. After a summer break, they relaunched back in September with an admirable six-acts-per-night policy in the sweltering underground den of the Notting Hill Arts Club, a venue with a security policy so tight and beers so expensive the whole experience is like living in Philip K. Dick’s subconscious. Nevertheless, once inside the vibe is friendly and buzzing, a great place to check out next year’s superstars.
The Trouble With Templeton, who editor Mary caught last year in Sydney, are an Australian five-piece whose sound ranges from slight acoustic whimsy to a brand of yearning AOR which, whilst perhaps not the most original sound in the rock playbook (Starsailor were doing exactly this over a decade ago, with a singer that sounded exactly the same, too boot), nevertheless provide enough variety in the songwriting and delivery to hold the interest throughout. ‘Six Months In A Cast’ gets the full driving-rock treatment, with piano riffs, washes of chugging guitar, and Thomas Calder’s impeccable, keening vocals to go with his impeccable, gleaming hair. ‘I Wrote A Novel’ is pleasant enough with its vocal percussion and clever lyrics; better still is the set-climaxing ‘Lint’, which builds with an abstract intensity and a less formal structure than the previous songs – perhaps a hint of future direction.
Apparently having won all sorts of awards for his songwriting, there’s no doubt that Calder’s pen is easily capable of jotting a memorable ditty or two, although on an absolute scale his output may be a little on the safe side, perhaps lacking that killer blow to stand out amongst the crowd now Templeton are making a bid for the big time. After the gig, drummer Ritchie explains that his band’s recent European jaunt was funded by the largesse of the recently-ousted Labor government (whilst bemoaning the anticipated lack of subsidy available from the new Liberal administration) – so I am obliged to thank the Australian taxpayers who subsidised my experience of The Trouble With Templeton, and can only hope they had nothing better to do with their money, like feeding their children. But such grumpiness aside, Templeton do deserve a wider audience; with their fresh faces and well-crafted tunes they could easily become very big indeed.
John J. Presley is a man dominated by hair – it’s pretty difficult to see his face, what with long blond locks swinging around as he prowls the stage, and the obligatory beard filling in what’s left. There’s no such difficulty at hearing him, though – the man has a veritable bellow of a voice, from which vowels aren’t really sung, more grudgingly allowed to escape, writhing in gruff protest. His is a ramshackle blues, heavily-fuzzed guitar issuing forth caveman riffs, occasionally accompanied by the sumptuous tones of a vintage Rhodes piano, or a touch of droning aerophone. ‘Sweet Sister’ exemplifies his one-man genre – guitar alternating between shades of brown overdrive and Hendrix-style fuzz, a background chorus of female vocals for company, the whole dirty and threatening like a snake in a basement.
Paul Thomas Saunders is the very spit of Sean Lennon, and the comparisons don’t stop at aesthetics – their voices are surprisingly similar, too. But where the younger Lennon’s career has been characterised by a bare smattering of LPs over the last fifteen years, Saunders appears much more focused with his releases, and indeed the records themselves hang together admirably. 2012’s ‘Descartes Highlands’ is a beautiful collection of heartfelt, spaced-out acoustic-electronic rock, dreamy in its presentation and knowingly literate in its content. The song titles belie an obscurantist influence – references to ‘Santa Muerte’ (the cult saint of death) alongside something like ‘A Lunar Veteran’s Guide To Re-Entry’ indicate a lot of thought and perhaps even a dollop of pretension are contained within. Live, Saunders plays guitar and keyboards expertly, the band spin a delicate web around his fragile, effected tenor; the overall result is a quite lovely update to the sort of space-age rock that Spiritualized first enamoured the public with over 20 years ago.
Ending the night with The Travelling Band is like finishing a sumptuous five-course meal with a piece of dry, mouldy cheddar one finds at the back of the fridge. TTB won the 2008 Glastonbury New Talent award – yet further evidence of the adverse effects of a Glasto-centric music scene. Style-wise, it’s plastic-folk, Jim, and exactly as we know it from the countless bearded hopefuls to the Mumford-ian throne that pop up every week with their wide-eyed honesty, carefully-practised five-part harmonies and clean underwear. The band can’t decide who their frontman is, as Jo Dudderidge and Adam Gorman vie for both the centre mic and the audience’s affections, all faux sincerity and gaping gurns. The quiet-loud-quiet-loud-ad-nauseum arrangements are depressingly predictable, as is the constant thud of a bass drum – a dance music substitute for those who find dance music too scary.
This is music every bit as reductive as the mainstream chart dross that music snobs constantly rail against – it performs exactly the same function as the latest offering from some famous-for-five-minutes auto-tuned chart diva, except its audience is middle class and post-teenage; and instead of hotpants and cleavage, we have carefully-quoiffed quiffs, neatly-trimmed beards and checked shirts. The lack of offensive potential, the cynically manipulative ear-pleasing yet bland songs, the emphasis of delivery over content, and the whole suffocating smugness of the whole affair is utterly depressing. Listen to this, from ‘Sundial': “If I had a home to call my own / then I wouldn’t need a sundial to stop me roaming around”. Give me strength, or better still, something scabrous and cynical – perhaps a PiL album, or a painting by Hieronymus Bosch – anything to clear away the fug of cloying sentimentality. Time will tell how long The Travelling Band can be bothered with the travelling part – 5 years since their breakthrough, little has been achieved by the way of mainstream success, and if the half-empty venue as they take the stage is anything to go by, their star is waning still.
The Communion Club night also plays in Brighton, Leeds, Newcastle and Glasgow, so for anyone wanting to make their own mind up about the bands discussed here, or discover the next big thing in new music, it’s a monthly event not to be missed.
It’s difficult to imagine exactly how a band from Leeds should sound. It might have something to do with heavy industry, perhaps a bit of boot-in-the-face blues-rock; certainly there will be an electric guitar or two. Suffice to say whatever the mind conjures it probably won’t be what Fossil Collective offer with their latest song revealed.
‘The Water’ uses layers of acoustic guitar and heavily-reverbed vocals to generate a windswept, desolate landscape, which builds to a gentle, keening brass-laden crescendo of modest beauty. Imagine standing atop a granite boulder somewhere on a windswept corner of the Yorkshire Moors, summoning the spirits of deceased Black Dyke Band members, as photographed by Andreas Gursky. That should do the trick.
‘The Water’ is also the title of their forthcoming EP, to be released on the 28th of October on Dirty Hit Records. We’ve yet to hear the other three tracks, but if they are up to the same standard as this then fans of bucolic UK folk will be dead chuffed, like. Stream ‘The Water’ below, and catch up on their their tour dates across the UK and Ireland posted below as well.
Tuesday 1st October 2013 – Brighton Haunt
Friday 4th October 2013 – Bristol Louisiana
Saturday 5th October 2013 – Cardiff Moon Club
Sunday 6th October 2013 – Exeter Phoenix Art Centre
Monday 7th October 2013 – Portsmouth Wedgewood Rooms
Tuesday 8th October 2013 – Oxford Academy
Wednesday 9th October 2013 – London Tabernacle
Thursday 10th October 2013 – Leeds Brudenell Social Club
Friday 11th October 2013 – Liverpool Leaf Cafe
Sunday 13th October 2013 – Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire
Monday 14th October 2013 – Glasgow King Tut’s
Tuesday 15th October 2013 – Belfast McHughs
Wednesday 16th October 2013 – Dublin Academy 2
This is an odd one for us – the Queen Extravaganza is essentially a covers band, and when was the last time a covers band was featured on TGTF? About 3 weeks ago last century? However, this is no bunch of wedding-singing journeymen – these guys have been hand-picked by Roger Taylor to keep the Queen dream very much alive. The whole show revolves around the astonishing vocal talents of Marc Martel, who really must be heard to be believed.
If you haven’t heard him sing, you’re in for a treat; it’s difficult to believe how similar he sounds to the real Freddie, and he even looks the part, complete with cheekbones, overbite, and trainee moustache. He’s arguably the best of the three Mercury interpreters so far, neither of whom have really hit the spot – Paul Rodgers was too bluesy, too pedestrian, and frankly too old, and Adam Lambert, for all his metrosexual camp and onstage energy, was never going to convince the fans from the old days that he was the true heir to the Mercury throne. Ironically, by not calling this project “Queen”, fans may be more accepting of them as an alternative, and less critical of the lead singer, a situation helped by Martel’s uncanny resemblance to Mercury.
The rest of the band are just as competent, if not quite as much carbon copies of their idols as Martel. Guitarist Brian Gresh is famous for his breathtaking backflips, something that even the guitar legend that is Brian May didn’t achieve. The truth is that these musicians had successful careers before joining the Extravaganza, with various solo projects and bands (Martel’s own group, Downhere, has 10 albums under its belt, and several Juno awards, the Canadian equivalent of Brits), so in reality it’s a supergroup masquerading as a covers band. Spike Edney, Queen’s keyboard player for almost 30 years, is present on keys and as musical director, representing the important demographic of those who actually knew Mercury himself personally, before his untimely demise.
Overall, this is certainly a treat not to be missed for anyone with even a cursory appreciation of the Queen canon. There’s no getting away from the fact that no more than half the original lineup will ever play again, so why not go the whole hog and invent a completely new band to get stuck into the countless classics in the Queen back catalogue. It would be Ga-Ga not to.
The Queen Extravaganza tours the UK in October and November. Visit the band’s official Web site for all the details on the upcoming tour.