Monday 28 March 2011

Oh! Gunquit and The World Service at The Wheelbarrow - 26 March 2011

Oh! Gunquit (pic by David Michael Defries)

It’s a night of surprises. Not all of them pleasant.

I’m trying to find a pub called The Wheelbarrow that is billed as being right by Mornington Crescent tube station. It isn’t.

It’s the pub formerly known as Tommy Flynn’s which is midway up Camden High Street. The venue has had a redesign, which is presumably what inspired the name change.

The new layout is an absolute fucking disaster.

The area where the bands perform is now perfectly blocking both access to the toilets and a large chill out /foosball area. It is not so much a stage as a space in the middle of a busy corridor.

In the early part of the evening this just about works. Until a band comes on.

The first band on are The World Service, who are resolutely mainstream, but solidly good and very watchable.

The singer has a strong voice and a decent stage presence. They won’t rock your world, but they deliver a good time. I’d give you more information, but they appear to be unGoogleable.

I’m ostensibly here to see Oh! Gunquit, whom I had previously caught at Offset last year.

And tonight the band are terrific, a dynamic blending of fifties/sixties rock(abilly) done with a modern twist. There’s no slavish devotion to ‘authenticity’ just a saxophone driven goodtime canter.

They are great. ‘Cindy’s Got a Tiger’ is great. ‘Flip The Top’ is great. The hula hooping is probably great, if I could see it.

What is not great is being squeezed into a gap less than ten feet wide, being buffeted back and forth by people either going to or coming back from the loo or just pushing past to play foosball or looking for their mates or going to the toilet again or seeing what the band looks like or coming back for a drink or having a dance or avoiding the scary pissed looking guy or seeing what’s happening or having a good chat or getting wedged or taking photos or going to the toilet yet a bloody gain or for Chrissakes make it stop!!!!

For part of the time I’m crushed against a bench. I can’t move. I’m trampled nonetheless and as I write this I have a lovely black bruise up my entire left leg.

The bands tonight are good to excellent. I urge you to see them. I also suggest that unless an act plays there that you really can’t see anywhere else, that you avoid The Wheelbarrow like the plague. It’s a total joke of a venue. You can do better.

Saturday 26 March 2011

The Primitives, Tender Trap, Evans The Death at The Garage - 23 March 2011

Tender Trap

Tonight I want a gig. Any gig.

In the end, due to timings I find that I have snubbed two free events (Japanese Voyeurs at Hoxton Bar & Grill, oOoOO at Old Blue Last) and am instead here at the Garage to see The Primitives. Again.

It’s a happy choice. I’ve not been in this venue since its refurbishment more than a year ago.

It’s deceptively similar. The cement floor has been replaced by wood and the lighting rig is much more megatronic-die-you-bastards than was previously the case.

First on stage are Evans The Death, whom I have seen before, and who still rather struggle to make an impression.

The band are personable, relaxed, and unfortunately, just not that exciting. Singer Katherine Whitaker struggles gamely with a tickly cough, but this is not an excuse. I like everything about them except the music they make. Pity.

The next band on are Tender Trap and they are so good that I am soon spitting feathers at perceived injustice on their behalf. (They are also so good that I forget to take a photo of them).

There is a market for airy, catchy, faux-Beach Boys sunny Californian sounding girly pop and bands such as Vivian Girls, Summer Camp, Best Coast etc have it all sown up in terms of UK adulation.

Tender Trap inhabit exactly the same territory and metaphorically cock their leg over each of their rivals. And yet, like Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect.

Their set tonight is a total joy, the three girls in the band singing in harmony, the two boys keeping well out of the way and lurking at the edges of the stage. Genuinely, I can’t praise this band enough – you’ve heard this before, but you haven’t heard it better.

The Primitives are gradually turning themselves from a band from the past on the nostalgia circuit to an outfit with new material who have picked up right where they left off.

New tracks “Rattle My Cage” and “Never Kill A Secret” mix seamlessly with their earlier songs and it all sounds sweet.

Elfin singer Tracy Tracy is bedecked in bling, sequinned from head to torso, her right ear hung with a gold heart almost as big as the rest of her head.

The Primitives are still smart, still cool, and still relevant. Good on them.

Monday 14 March 2011

The Volitains, Cold In Berlin, The Unkindness of Ravens at The Workshop - 12 March 2011

The Volitains

Another Saturday, another tiny venue in Shoreditch. It is so cramped down here that the audience has to part each time staff from upstairs have to fetch a case of beer or a bag of ice from the storeroom. This lends a certain illicit thrill to the evening. We feel like we are in the way, like we shouldn’t be here.

First band on are Mutant Vinyl, who hail from Bournemouth and are young and urgent and have a fine line in the kind of punky white boy reggae that the Clash pioneered. This is a connection made explicit over the course of their set, which includes a cover of ‘Guns of Brixton’.

The focal point and head honcho of the band is Edwin Pope, who plays both guitar and saxophone and also clutches his microphone with both hands (when he can get them free). He has his hoody pulled up and declaims and emotes and it’s all very good.

Mutant Vinyl have a lot of supporters here and you can see what has got them excited. This band has a real popular appeal. Keep an eye out.

The Unkindness of Ravens are markedly different. There are two of them, guitarist Ben Raine and the fascinatingly unusual singer Nina Wagner. The pair produces a dark and twisted blues pop to the backing of a thunderous drum machine.

You can’t tear your eyes off Wagner. She perpetually wriggles and writhes, her arms often at stiff right angles. It’s not a dance style that I have seen before but it certainly gets your attention. Imagine a robot dancing the credits to ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ and you are kind of there. Her voice is low and husky and completely appropriate.

The Unkindness of Ravens put on quite a show and I’m glad to add them to my list of bands that I’ll be happy to catch again.

Cold In Berlin need no introduction around these parts and tonight’s show does not disappoint.

Singer Maya apologies for having a bit of a cold, but you’d never have thought that she was below par as she screams, roars and rages in front of the stage. Guitarists wander among us, heads bowed and hooded. The band are, as ever, apocalyptically sublime.

This leaves headliners The Volitains with a bit of an uphill task. The make up of the band (girl singer, two guitars, drummer) exactly mirrors the act that precedes them and this makes it very difficult not to draw comparisons.

Singer Candice Ayrey certainly gives her all, standing alone in front of her pals, often bent double with the ferocity of her delivery.

In these circumstances I find it impossible to judge them on their own merits. So on this occasion, I won’t. But I recommend that you go and make your own mind up.

Another Saturday. Another venue. Another great night out.

Sunday 13 March 2011

Japanese Earthquake Appeal

The last time I visited Japan was in October 2008. As always, I was made welcome and had a wonderful time. One of the gigs I went to was in Sendai, the town that has borne the brunt of the terrible earthquake and tsunami that has struck the country in the past few days.

The gig was terrific, both in terms of the music and the great hospitality that I received afterwards. All I can do is hope that everyone I met and their loved ones are ok and doing the best they can in these terrible circumstances.

There are various charities that are doing what they can to help those affected.

You may wish to help, and if so, these are some links to organisations that would welcome your assistance.