March 26th, 2008

Here Come The Letters More

Indie Schmindie Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

The Letters, The Last Ones Indie Schmindie at The Love Apple, Bradford

“Bradford,” she said “is too music what L.A. is to the movies. Everyone is either in a band, starting a band or getting involved in bands.”

In the last two or three years Bradford’s music scene has changed beyond recognition as much of that change has come in some way from this small bar with a room that is The Love Apple and the people who populate it. Tonight they give local bands the route forward towards the BD1 Live and Granadaland nights that - if this week’s NME coverage of Saturday’s Make Model gig is an indication of – are beginning to get noticed.

Not that one would imagine that The Last Ones are going to advance much further than wet Wednesday nights in Bradford coming over as they do as a Oasis tribute band who do not know any Oasis songs and while Beccy Stubb’s bass drifted into Stone Roses territory too often Robin Stern’s vocal snarl is more of a purr and a rough purr at that.

Wake Up shows some promise but the band need to find their own sound rather than pilfering sp wholesale through the early 1990s Manchester scene for inspiration. The better bands of whatever scene there is in Bradford are lofty because – in this writer’s humble opinion – they create music across genre but definitely from Bradford.

The Letters emerge as a fine example of this. This is the third gig for the band build from bits of seniors of Bradford indie Green but confidence and heldover experience are a combination to drive any performance and tonight is smooth and entertaining.

The Letters on at The Love Apple

Kelly Heaton’s low key vocal through Atomic layers onto some impressive guitar work by Leon Carroll – the band have three covers and six original songs as they build a setlist – augmenting Kev Pryke’s bass and Rob Mills’ sterling work on the drums but it is in their own material where the band’s distinctive mix of fuzzed up, fast tempo, treble high guitaring begins to shine. Just Remember is C86 with added Jesus & Mary Chain and stands out.

The stand at ease on stage with Rob swapping quips with the audience from behind his kit and hearing a shout of “ten a penny” but in truth immediately arresting and entertaining bands are rare and as Leon’s tweaking of guitar buzzes along Kelly’s vocals the decent Wednesday night crowd smiles and enjoys.

The Letters are likeable and liked. Green ploughed lonely furrows in Bradford’s music scene but hardly got past venues such as this. One suspect The Letters will find more followers in the flourishing, well tended Bradford music scene of today.

Written By Michael Wood Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

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March 5th, 2008

All the young things, All the futures More

Live Review

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

The Futureheads, The Daisy Riots and Uncle Monty at Northumbria University, Newcastle Upon Tyne

The Futureheads are currently in the middle of a student union venue sized tour where they are airing their new third long player offering “This Is Not The World” – due out this month on their own label.

Tonight they have been supported by The Daisy Riots (Southportian shoegaze haired young moppets thrashing out the treble loud and clear on their guitars) and Uncle Monty (local four-piece, a little older, a little more earnest with some good melodies weaved into their more structured guitar driven noise). Both acts successfully fulfilled the brief of the support band - be distracting, nay, entertaining but don’t risk over shadowing the main act.

After casually assembling at the stage side to watch Uncle Monty, The Futureheads disappeared backstage to regroup as their lone roadie prepped their instruments expertly, which was almost another support act in itself.

Emerging confidently through the darkness a few moments later, Barry, Dave, Ross and Jaff took to the stage, grabbed their delicately tuned guitars (Dave excepted) and immediately launched into a frenetic rendition of Decent Days and Nights.

This familiar crowd pleaser was a perfect choice to announce their arrival in the evening and was followed by a pair of tracks also from the back catalogue to really stimulate the crowd memory of The Futureheads. The track A to B, subject of which is laziness was played with such vigour, in particular by Ross, that it raised an ironic smile in this reviewer.

It was observed that The Futureheads stood in formation of decreasing order of frenzy in their playing styles -left to right: Ross (lead guitar), Barry (rhythm) and Jaff (bass) with Dave (drums) behind Barry. Ross leapt about in “air guitar” style operatics, Dave gave Meg White a run for her money in cool, almost dispassionate play whilst Barry and Jaff covered the middle ground in their own way. And this was pretty much maintained throughout the whole gig as they skilfully mixed their classics like Area with several morsels from the new album at breakneck pace.

The new material showcased, including title track This Is Not The World, the intriguingly concepted Girl With The Radio Heart, single Broke Up The Time and rousing current release The Beginning Of The Twist fitted seamlessly into the rest of set as the younger crowd at the front moshed along merrily.

The latter track was played with a touch more focus and diligence for it was being especially recorded (as is every night’s version on the tour) to be released.

The venue, as a student union, was mainly filled with usual clientele of young things that may be of less discernment or passion for The Futureheads than the band deserve, especially when rolling out new material. I do wonder if they had held this gig at, for example, The Cluny, whether the new material would have been greeted by a crowd with more enthusiasm and interest. I felt that The Futureheads deserved more response and verve from the crowd in both banter and also in praise for their spirited performance.

However, that is not to say the crowd were not engaged as audience participation was corralled by Ross (of course) who directed appropriate hand clapping and vocal work from us – at one stage mimicking crows with an “Ah! Ah!” along to a chorus of a new track. As rewards, we were gifted Skip To The End and the near legendary Hounds Of Love to play with.

After a consistent and sometimes relentless set with a brief encore (where they go to hug and praise each other – according to the The Young Knives last week, who let us in on an industry secret (wink, wink) of what groups do between encores) and finale of a short, intense track, they bounded off stage and so never outstayed their welcome.

Written By Ria Wilkinson Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

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March 4th, 2008

Navigated, Priceless More

Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

The Magnetic Fields at Town Hall, New York City

Strung along the stage at New York's Town Hall are Magnetic Fields. "We are here to promote our new record, erm, Distortion" says Claudia Gonson sitting behind a piano looking nervously across to the mercurial yet miserable Stephin Merritt and in the next hour and a half they will craft music worth crossing the Earth for.

For the uninitiated Magnetic Fields are a strange combination of New York curio quirks. The lead performer Merritt pushes a finger in is ear to deaden the sound of applause - a medical thing - but as a symbol of the band's reluctance to conform to a norm of pop music it is telling.

More a recital than a gig they are a mandolin, a piano, a cello, am acoustic guitar and drafted in singer Shirley Simms who begins the night with the ironic yet bitter paean to axe attacks California Girls.

So the scene is set with Gonson - all Annie Hall chic and disorganisation - playing good wife to Merritt's sniped, self depreciating one liners and perhaps this would not play elsewhere but this is the home town and Magnetic Fields are in accepting company.

They run through the love song for the City - Come Back From San Francisco - which sounds like it is on the edge of shattering and Gonson offers that that tune comes from the seminal 69 Love Songs which is a hard to follow work and one that has forced the band into new directions over the past decade. The noise pop of Distortion is missing tonight and tracks are acoustic, beautiful, chipped from marble.

Old Fools is a typical example with the strings of a cello replacing feedback howls it is rendered different and softer and the snide Merritt is replaced by one heartfelt and tender. For a band that delight in playfulness the soul shows bright tonight.

The set list meanders around the newer work dipping back to include Lovers On The Moon which is shorn of its electro pop beginnings of fifteen years ago and arrives fresh and wholeheartedly. They fiddle with tracks from spin off band The Gothic Archies and as if to underline the point that this is a performance and not a gig they take a break, an interval.

I Thought I Was Your Boyfriend is plucked from quirky to quality and The Nun's Litany has vocal changed from Shirley to Stephin and raises chuckles. No chuckle, no not even the sound of a pin dropping as Stephin pours heart, soul, energy and endeavour into a breaking rendition of Papa Was A Rodeo which stands as the greatest version of any song I've heard live. Every line filled with bittersweet promise and hope for a love not lost.

There are dry eyes in the house but they are not mine.

Am encore includes a funky version of Three Way, a stripped back Claudia moving through Take Ecstacy With Me and ends on Stephin's solo rendition of The Book Of Love and the night is done.

The globe navigated and the prize priceless.

Written By Michael Wood Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

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February 17th, 2008

The Outsider More

BD1 LiVE Live Review

Written By Michael Wood Sunday, February 17th, 2008

Art Brut BD1 Live at St George's Hall, Bradford

Art Brut are powering through a storming set at Bradford's St George's Hall and I get the same feeling I did returning to school aged nine after a couple of weeks off with chicken pox.

Led by the wonderfully haphazard Eddie Argos who charges onto the stage like the Disney friendly version of Jarvis Cocker Art Brut are twice the band live than they are from any of the two albums and umpteen singles that have totally passed me by leading to this sense of schoolyard confusion.

They pound through My Little Brother and Argos gees his band up for every gushing of guitars with a communal call - "Are you ready Art Brut?" It is entertaining, is the stirring and as the bouncing kids at the front attest to it is stimulating enough to set bodies moving. They have an anthem - it is called Emily Kane - and it sounds fantastic. It is about Argos's fifteen year old squeeze and I'm back in the schoolyard and with my two weeks off everyone else has a new word, a phrase, a thing. I feel like an outsider.

As they are welcomed back to the stage with a chorus call of "Art Brut Top Of The Pops" which references some line in some song they have but is also exceedingly singable I'm struck by how well the four lads and a lass on stage have won over the four hundred odd at BD1 Live night in St George's Hall - or perhaps they have just won over me - but either way they deserve the encore and, I would suggest, your attention.

Written By Michael Wood Sunday, February 17th, 2008

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February 11th, 2008

Bourbons Be The Food of Music More

Live Review

Written By Ria Wilkinson Monday, February 11th, 2008

Eamon Hamilton of The Brakes, The Voluntary Butler Scheme, Hella Cholla at The Faversham, Leeds

Two guys and a gal stroll into a bar. They are greeted by a plate of Bourbon biscuits at the door in exchange for an e-mail address or just plain charm. Whichever of the three acts on tonight in the Faversham have sponsored said biscuits, they have already won over one member of group that have travelled near (Morley), further (Bradford) and far (Newcastle) to be here tonight.As it is, we have strolled in on the last three songs of the opening act Hella Cholla – the biscuit sponsors.

They are, at the core, a duo act of lively Hannah Yadi on vocals and stoic Will Betts on acoustic guitar although tonight they are supplemented by a bass and simple drum beat. Hannah’s voice fills the bar easily with its strength and sharpness striking the ears of the audience seated around the tea-lit tables in front of the stage or stood, pints in hand, around the columns of the room. Her voice has a tone reminiscent of a southern or even antipodean origin and it ensures the lyrics are sung with clarity and your attention is hers.

The backdrop is a red curtain that forms three sides to the stage and there is a brass bar along the stage front to keep any potential moshing at bay – not that is required tonight as the tables and tea lights create quite an elegant, cabaret ambiance to the room. Hannah certainly captivates and is a little firecracker as she constantly bops about the small stage utilising the microphone prop to its full advantage. Her expressive face eagerly illustrates the songs (co-written with Will) with the passion and energy of a childrens’ television presenter. If this is the result of sugar and E-numbers in Bourbon biscuits prior to taking to the stage, more acts should have Bourbon biscuits mandated on their riders!

Confident as Hannah is when singing, the shy chat to the audience between songs (promoting the hospitality Bourbons and the e-mail sign up) and her nervous impatience as Will re-tunes his guitar endears her to us whereas the strength of her voice and animated show may have left the impression of overbearing brashness.

Just as we are really getting into the swing and toe-tappingness of their Mediterranean flavoured upbeat rhythms, we are informed that the next song, Dance Like Ordinary People, will be their last. We are told it was the first song they co-wrote together and the performance of it is alive with the joy of familiarity and quirkiness that the song holds for both Hannah and Will, who supplies some vocal harmony. The song describes a shy girl with an alarmingly unique dance style “you don’t just dance like ordinary people, neither do i...” – personally, I’d check for Bourbon biscuit consumption – and it makes for a rousing, warm end to their set.

Not too soon after the stage is vacated, a tall, solitary figure unpacks a number of instruments and sets up the keyboard and mics mostly unnoticed by the crowd. By this stage, the two guys and a gal have secured one of the tea-lit tables right at the brass bar front of the stage and have an excellent view of the assembly in action. It’s not apparent until a yellow maraca is studiously shook for a looping pedal to capture, that this is actually the start of the build of the first song from The Voluntary Butler Scheme. Although perhaps not obvious from the act name, The Voluntary Butler Scheme (or TVBS) is all but one man, Rob Jones. Hailing from Stourbridge, Rob is a one-man-band for the Jens Lekman, The Go Team!, Divine Comedy, Mr Scruff loving generation. As he layers up the loops of a maraca, a tambourine, some guitar bridges and some backing vocals of the first song, he does not address nor make eye contact with the audience.

Jones diligently applies each layer with an expression of focus and thought that gives the impression of watching a scientist, or even a magician, set up an experiment. Loops in place and already creating a sound that belies the work of one man, he finally plays the keyboard over it and glazes the finished product with vocals delivered from behind a curtain of hair. The keys are depressed with the same sure footedness that the guitar has been strummed, and he sings Tabasco Sole as his foot keeps rhythm on the bass drum – a true multitasking master. The song ends and he engages the audience from behind the hair and mumbles about his act name not really being indicative of a solo performer. The audience applaud him generously, impressed by the skill alone, to say nothing of the jaunty tune. For the second TVBS song - Hot Air Balloon Heart - he wisely simplifies it down to just the keyboard.

However, there are a number of unused instruments scattered around him and the crowd anticipates what he might pick up next. The Eiffel Tower & BT Tower delights as he adorns a harmonica holder affixed with a Kazoo and then picks up the Hawaiian style tiny guitar. Several tracks in and it becomes apparent there is a food theme threaded within the everyday whimsy of the lyrics. From “a tv chef adding too much seasoning” (The Eiffel Tower & BT Tower) to “if you were broccoli, I’d turn vegetarian for you” (Trading Things In) or “buy my dinner from a dream take-away” (Alarm Clock). These references pepper songs inspired by the mostly sunny side of love and devotion and the quirky turn of phrase “my employment status is low” and the imagery painted in, for example, Blender (which is recipe involving mushrooms, peppers, onions, garlic and his heart) should render smiles even in those who might find it a bit twee.

When all the instruments had their turn in the spot light and the finale of Trading Things In finished with a good thrash at the high-hat and bass drum, the audience was charmed as it should have been by the effort, skill and over all sunniness that The Voluntary Butler Scheme brought to the Faversham. If twee and everyday minutiae are of interest to you (hello Jens fans) and you also appreciate some Divine Comedy, Mr Scruff, the Go! Team and 1970s sounds, then I would encourage you to seek out TVBS.

On a personal footnote here, seeing the performance of Rob Jones of all the instruments in front our eyes and ears then employing use of looping as spare pairs of hands, did not leave me feeling “cheated” at all in terms of giving a false performance. This further threw into sharp contrast the experience of watching Two Madre where the two people played keyboard, guitar and saxophone over full percussion and guitar backing provided by an ipod. It felt rather cheap and lazy to watch – either have the rest of the “band” there, do without and simplify or use a third way shown here by The Voluntary Butler Scheme.

Sometimes, it’s a bit of a worry that the fun of the evening has peaked too early with the support act, especially when not overly familiar with the headline act, as was the personal experience of watching the ridiculously good-time twangers The Wild Strings before the earnest British Sea Power earlier this month. Hopefully this wasn’t to be a case of history repeating with Eamon Hamilton (Brakes, nee BSP) and TVBS.

Thankfully not.

An unassuming presence on the stage – just a slim man dressed in black jeans, shirt and boots with an acoustic guitar stood where the melee of musical instruments had been strewn earlier. The rest of the stage was darkened so a single spotlight could pick Eamon Hamilton and his glass of red wine out on the stage. But there was a glint in the eye and a curl to the lips that quickly became a gurn Mick Jagger would be proud of as he launched into Spring Chicken and suddenly the character of the Brakes is made clear.

It is Eamon Hamilton with his set list taped to the back of his guitar introducing his songs with a couple of lines of throw away quips that suddenly give the often taken as ironic but nevertheless furious guitar work abare bones openness. Ring A Ding Ding is about George Bush and Tony Blair - and we thought he meant proper Cowboys - and Cheney is "still sadly relevant".

Eamon is on the road to try out new songs but he only has two of them. They both sound like a continuation of the impressive The Beatific Visions album and as someone shouts for Mobile Communication and isobliged one of us wishes he had shouted for Porcupine or Pineapple.

"The next one is a heart breaker" he says. No Return rings out and cuts through the air as the finest song in an impressive collection. He carries on a little after that but the night has been crowned.

And so, as the last flay of the guitar strings for Comma, Comma, Full Stop left their mark on the night, two guys and a gal rose from their ring side seat at the acoustic food cabaret and started to make their way into the night, where they happened upon the plate of Bourbon biscuits nursed by the friends of Hella Cholla. Thinking the night couldn’t be improved further after the triumphant acquisition of the third biscuit of the evening, the event was (chocolate) iced when a post-gig Eamon amiably spent a few minutes chatting to two guys and a gal as he relaxed with wine, cigarette, knitted hat and some of his moonlighting “stage technicians” in which Eamon tells us which of the five is his favourite in Girls Aloud - Nicola - and that The Brakes will be recording their new album in April to release not long after.

Tonight has been the best night so far for Eamon, for Rob Jones who is driving the Brakes man from gig to gig and for the other stage technicians who randomly include on of bright new lights Joe Jean and The Jing Jang Jong and for us because we all smile and we just discovered that when British Sea Power appeared on Later... Eamon was the Wrestler in the blue.

He lost then. We all won tonight though.

Written By Ria Wilkinson Monday, February 11th, 2008

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