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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.
Eels, as everyone knows, is the musical project of singer and bandleader Mark “E” Everett; not far off its 20th birthday, the project has shifted through many forms, from near-solo performances, through big band arrangements, to today’s incarnation, a five-piece guitar combo with a penchant for existential swamp-rock.
The entire performance is couched in slightly unsettling terms: the five-piece band is clad identically in Adidas tracksuit, beard and sunglasses; when they are introduced halfway through, it becomes apparent for reasons of convention they have all been given human nicknames, but don’t be fooled – the truth is that E has perfected the theory and practice of human genetic cloning, and has pressed it into service for the benefit of musical performance. The clue is in the leader’s name: he’s standing far stage right, and if you tag each musician from left to right, starting at the beginning of the alphabet, you finally get to E, the E-vil genius behind the whole affair.
On record, Eels have an eclectic way with an arrangement: latest LP ‘Wonderful, Glorious’ features bits of synth, electronic beats, and as many downtempo low-fi moments as electric guitar excursions. Not so live, however – tonight it was guitar central. Now, anyone who claims the guitar band is dead just has to look at what Eels can do with an electric guitar ensemble to refute their own claim. They start as they mean to go on – with noise and aggression. An extended play of ‘Dog Faced Boy’ rocks thumpingly hard. A surprise version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Oh Well’ is quite a treat so early in the set, the band revelling in the stop-start call-and-response section. Older heads in the audience nod along sagely. After such a noisy start, the tempo inevitably needs to slow down for a while. “Here’s one for the ladies”, E declares, before shifting into the gentle beauty of ‘The Turnaround’. See, girls, he’s not all beard and shouting, there’s a delicate side to him as well. Not that it lasts all that long, the band clearly ache to wind up the overdrive and rock out again for the drawn-out end coda.
But there’s more to Eels than just fret wizardry. There’s a strong theatrical streak throughout, at times almost disturbingly surreal. There’s a false alarm of some structural deficiency in the auditorium (ironic considering the venue’s collapsing floor incident of some years ago), complete with sirens and the band ducking for cover. There’s banter between the band and their tour crew, including the fantastically stereotypical tour manager who repeatedly attempts to limit them to just one more song. It’s obviously just for show, but there’s enough doubt in one’s mind to make it fun. They run back on stage to play a final song even as the stage is being dismantled; again, perfectly staged, but quite striking anyway, as the crew wander around coiling leads and packing kit, the band are belting out one final song. Were they allowed? Was it all for show, or a genuinely subversive act? Either way, it shows a sense for the dramatic, an awareness of the fourth-wall abstract that raises a simple rock ‘n’ roll performance to more profound heights. A memorable performance that barely scratched the surface of Eels’ back catalogue.
Is it just me or was Kendal Calling 2013‘s Saturday on the main stage “Lad’s day”? The Twang, The D.O.T., even Ash seemed to bring the inner Manc out in everybody. At least Dutch Uncles were there to bring a bit of thinking man’s rock to the party. Is it just me or do Dutch Uncles get better with every viewing? Duncan Wallis (shown below) is a frontman perfectly at ease with himself, proudly showing off his pristine, angular moves, particularly on ‘Flexxin’’, where the famous moves from the video are reproduced even more lucidly onstage. The band display a limber structure within which they explore their compositions, with a confidence only a group who have toured together for countless months can display. And they seem to have avoided becoming bored with each other or their songs, as have the audience.
The D.O.T. came widely anticipated. A joint venture between Mike Skinner, ex of The Streets, and Rob Harvey, ex of Leeds rockers The Music, promises to bring some urban smarts to indie music, to replace guitars with electronics, but still within a knowing framework that appeals to both indie kids and hip-hop heads. In reality, it all falls a bit flat. Certainly there’s nothing here to compete with the intensity of the previous night’s Public Enemy onslaught, but conversely it would be more exciting with a bit of live instrumentation. Harvey strums a guitar every now and again, but they fail to excite the crowd at all; Skinner’s deadpan sneering doesn’t help, an attitude which apparently carries through to his DJ set later in the evening. There are occasional glimpses of the urban tenderness of The Streets, but glimpses is all they are. There’s potential here, but they need to have a bit of a rethink on how to engage anyone other than diehard fans of both The Music and The Streets at the same time. How many of those can there be?
The most surprising thing about The Twang is that they’re actually still going, given a steady decline in album sales over the past decade, let alone how they’ve managed to bag a decent main stage slot at a big festival. Well, the answer’s in the laddism. They appear to have two singers, plenty of guitars and energy, and some singalong bits – who am I to argue that what they actually need is class and talent?
Tim Wheeler (pictured at top) from Ash is lacking in neither class or talent – it takes class to maintain a brand for 20 years, whilst keeping people interested and even devoted to its music; it takes talent to continue to wield a Gibson Flying V with the sort of aplomb which would make a 12-year-old boy say, “that’s cool”. Both of which are achieved within a few bars of Ash’s set commencing. Moreover, they command the rain: it pours down at the first note of their set, and would continue for 12 hours. Clearly God is a fan. Nobody has really taken Ash’s place: as survivors of the tail end of Britpop, their offer is clearly still relevant today, and not just by way of nostalgia. Their songs are evocative of teenage yearning, of big guitars, and simple, overriding emotions still capable of commanding a big festival stage. Carry on, sir.
Sweet Baboo’s delicate, witty, poignant Welsh ditties bring us back to the Calling Out tent. Such assertively sweet music from such an unassuming chap is quite the contrast. By the time the set climaxes, the horn section is parping as if Steve Cropper were in the crowd, taking notes. Which, in a spiritual way, he was. To be followed swiftly by Sons and Lovers (shown below), who tread that fine line between cliche and true excellence. In the cold light of day, their Mumford-esque sound is their downfall: inevitable thumping floor toms, incessant quiet-loud-quiet-loud arrangements, and hopelessly romantic themes do them no favours, but on this day in history, Sons and Lovers provide set worthy of headliners. Such are the complex vagaries of live music.
London Grammar remain to be assessed another day – their autumn tour should set the record straight as to whether they are simply xx wannabes, or whether they have something truly original to offer. Now… it hardly needs stating that there’s more to music festivals than stroking one’s chin at bands. So Saturday night was as good a time as any to relinquish any thought of sobriety, any notion of “reviewing”, and simply have a bit of a party. A date had been made for 10 pm to watch a delightful bunch of ladies called the Hooping Harlots perform a spectacular LED hula-hoop display, with the added bonus that they let any old punter (e.g., me) practice their dubious hula skills with some of their less precious hoops. Even though I can keep it up indefinitely (that’s what she said!) I can’t do anything more exciting than that; the talented Harlots, however, can do the lot – spinning around the wrist, neck, and unbelievably, the shoulder, and swapping between them all with a fluid ease that defies description. Add to that the LED light show within the hoops, and it’s a spectacle guaranteed to scramble already delicate festival minds.
The whole thing took place at the well-named Tipple Taxi, a London cab converted into a bijou drinking den, one of many micro-venues scattered around the site, making an evening stumble around the place into a voyage of one exciting discovery after another – from the Chai Wallah’s tent rising from the horizontal for a bit of a boogie finale, to the lucky dip of sounds that is Riot Jazz. The climax of any good Saturday night at Kendal has to be the Glow Dance Tent, however.
Which is where it should, and does, become a little hazy. There are photographs – oh, what photographs. The essence of the sublime confusion of a properly executed night in the company of dance music is expressed therein. Please take a look. Musically, Krafty Kutz expressed their unsurpassed UK hip hop beats and flow, assisted by A Skillz. Needless to say there was dubstep bass all over the house, the constant battle between vocal lines, sub bass, and 8-bit melodies proving too much to bear for some. Check out the Dirtyphonics remix of Pounding for more information, and to experience the enormous bass which sets the level for a Krafty Kutz experience. The level reaches even higher with the introduction of the mentalist blend of wound-up beats, vocals, and samples that comprises ‘Happiness’. Spotify it out.
Suffice to say by the time Maribou State took over at 2 AM, the tent was in great need of a bit of glitchy, soulful techno to rest weary limbs. But even then, the subtle electronica coalesced into an irresistible hole of bouncing heads and knowing looks as the next hour passed in a haze of exhaustion. We were to stagger, spent and silent, to a wreck of flooded, ransacked tents… but that’s a story for another day.
If one was to hold a competition to find the most picturesque view in festivaldom, what would be on the shortlist? Certainly the legendary vista of the entire site from Glastonbury’s stone circle. Perhaps the imposing aspect from underneath Primavera’s vast concrete solar monolith across the Mediterranean sea. Equally as impressive, in a considerably more natural way, is the view just past the entrance barriers into Kendal Calling. The grassy site stretches out down a gentle slope, pocked with multicoloured canvas. Billowy cumulonimbus hang in a vast sky graduated between royal and baby blue, whilst on the horizon sit the imposing peaks of the Lake District. Just into the distance, tantalisingly obscured by trees, can be seen the tents and stages of the arena itself.
The geographical fortune of Kendal Calling doesn’t stop there. Being located roughly equidistant between the conurbations of Manchester, Glasgow, and Newcastle upon Tyne contributes to a heady melting pot of accents from three cultures that, let’s be honest, aren’t renowned for being shy of a bit of a party. And Kendal seems to specifically for their requirements: there’s guitar music aplenty, sometimes with a distinctly ‘laddish’ slant, and non-stop dance music until 3 AM for those so inclined towards a bit of an uplifting boogie. Which, as it turned out, for one night only, was me.
The rest of my time at Kendal mostly was spent at the Calling Out stage, a modestly-sized tent featuring less well-known and more up-and-coming acts than the household names hosted on the main stage. The very first act of the festival were Concrete Knives (pictured above), given a cruelly short 30 minutes in which to get across their funky Gallic guitar-pop. They rattle through several from debut ‘Be Your Own King’, Morgane Colas apparently floating in a self-induced trance when singing. They’re a rare treat, funky, cerebral and humorous all at the same time, and I can’t wait to see them do a full headline set (5/5). Champs have a lovely, summery take on the songwriter duo; something like ‘My Spirit Is Broken’ is just the sort of keening, sweetly-harmonied ditty that you want to hear emanating from a warm afternoon tent (3/5).
Waylayers turn up the tempo somewhat. Theirs is the sound of guitar songwriting meeting Balearic beats and synths as on the anthemic ‘S.O.S.’, which is dancefloor-worthy even without needing a remix. Harry Lee has enormous physical presence, dominating both the stage and the little keyboard from which he generates any number of uplifting synth lines. His vocals are often the spit of Diagrams’ Sam Genders, while the music treads a similar path to other practitioners of the dance crossover genre such as Friendly Fires; the fact that ‘Fires’ was produced by Ewan Pearson of TGTF former faves Delphic is surely no coincidence. Are they still unsigned? Surely not for long (4/5).
“I washed my hair for you / I shaved my legs for you too” – the first couplet of ‘Next To You’ neatly summarises Misty Miller’s brand of guitar-based feminism, and the enormous blues riff which explodes seconds later indicates how serious she is about it. This is properly dirty garage rock, as simple as it gets: two, maybe three chords, drums bashed as hard as possible, and as generous a dose of swagger from the eponymous young frontwoman as one could reasonably hope for. Nothing particularly complicated here, but a generous dose of attitude and a nice loud electric guitar go a long way, and considering Misty is still only 19 years old, this is a particularly impressive performance (4/5).
Clean Bandit (pictured at top) are an unusual proposition, with their uneasy blend of dance music overlaid with a variety of classical stringed instruments and some MCing – effectively an updated version of the Dads’ car stereo favourite ‘Hooked On Classics’. A couple of minutes into this year’s ‘Mozart’s House’ single, the beats stop completely and the strings play a few bars solo, before the inevitable four-to-the-floor kick drum reappears, and it all goes hands-in-the-air again. The MC mines the depth of cliché in his classical music references – staccato, pizzicato, they’re all there, sticking out like four crotchets in a bar of waltz. One can’t help but think that fans of neither genre are served well – do dance heads really want strings all over their music? And it’s a rare kind of classical music fan that thinks, “what this string quartet recital really needs is a nice 909 bassline!” Nevertheless, there is some virtue here – the twin female vocalists give good show, the whole thing could act as a decent, risk-free primer to the charms of dance music for débutantes, and overall it’s all pretty good fun – if you don’t mind a bit of cheese in your mid-afternoon sandwich (2/5).
Whether or not it’s the fact that Morecambe’s The Heartbreaks are treating Kendal Calling as something of a homecoming gig, what with them being just a quick trip up the M6 away from home, there’s something in the demeanour of Matthew Whitehouse and co. that demonstrates that they’re not just making up the numbers here. They would end up playing three times in the same day, including an acoustic set, but the Calling Out stage set was as good as any place to catch them. Clearly steeped in the aesthetic of the swinging ’60s, in many ways The Heartbreaks are keeping alive the straight pop of the pre-grunge ’90s, with a sweet, upbeat songs about girls. There’s a clear Smiths influence, which is no surprise given the band’s enthusiasm for them, but they come across as far more joyous than the Mancunian miserabilists. If you’re in the market for slice after slice of optimistic guitar pop, The Heartbreaks are who you should be listening to (5/5).
A few minutes in the company of Willy Moon soon assuages any doubts that his underwhelming Liverpool Sound City performance was anything other than representative of the usual standard of his work. His set consists of vignettes of self-aggrandising cliché; he himself is an obsequious musical magpie that steals the shiniest but most worthless musical baubles. For example, a compilation of lyrics from recent album ‘Here’s Willy Moon’ tell their own story:
“ain’t coming back no more / yeah yeah / how you like me now / one, two, three, four / I got what you need / got a strange affliction deep in my soul / I wanna be your man / when I was young my mama said / I put a spell on you”
Make no mistake, the first time these musical ideas were invented, they worked, because they were new and exciting. But to simply rehash them and sell them on as one’s own work, isn’t just plagiarism, it’s insulting the intelligence of one’s audience. Moon has an obvious talent for performance, but a desperate hole where there should be some decent, meaty bits of song – pretty much all of which are under 3 minutes long, and some are under 2. Usually brevity in music is to be applauded, as long as what is presented is an original idea, concisely expressed. In Moon’s case, his are underdeveloped foeti of songs, birthed at too young an age, dressed up in the glitter of production to disguise their weakness (1/5).
Public Enemy, on the other hand, have a lot to say, perhaps quite a lot more than can be easily understood on first listen by a white Yorkshireman. The show is highly theatrical, with Flava Flav making an appearance ages after things have got going; in fact it was three songs in, because the photographers were preparing to leave after the customary three songs, only to be called back by Flav because he hadn’t had enough of the limelight – the first time in my experience that an artist has called for more photographic exposure rather than less. And certainly the first time that terms have been overruled directly from onstage. Flav makes an impassioned tribute to the unfortunate black American teenager Trayvon Martin, to whom he dedicates his continuing to wear the clock around his neck. There’s entourage scattered around the stage, seemingly just standing there most of the time, but overall it’s a pretty highly-charged affair, set amongst what it could be said is a fairly inoffensive, apolitical bill. And there’s nowt wrong with that (4/5).