Week twenty one -Happy festival!

Festival season – the time you can see more live music in one afternoon than you have the chance to for the whole of the winter months. Super-short jean shorts, tie-dye and face-glitter cannisters come out of hibernation. I might not partake in any of these accessories, but I am certainly excited to see the music at a festival.

My festival pre-cursor this week was a return trip to The Grapes to see Joe Wilkinson again playing his beautiful covers and own songs. Jemma and I took our usual seats and we were joined by two other friends (who knew?!). Joe was on his usual flying visit to the UK and the long journey didn’t seem to do him any harm; it was a fantastic set as always.

And then Saturday came. Common People. The second year of this Southampton festival run by the same people as Bestival, and you can tell. It’s beautiful. The decorations look like a colour and shape explosion (in a good way). Even me, as cynical as I am, love seeing the coloured flags flying high in the wind and the sight of a helter skelter lit up is always a thing of joy.

Anyway, onto the serious business of music. I can’t possibly talk in depth about all the acts I saw over the weekend (I like to get my money’s worth). So here’s a whistle-stop tour (in no particular order):

  • The Sea Slugs – An Afrobeat local band. Lots of loud shirts and funky music. A good start to the festival especially as they sated my appetite for sax and cowbell. MORE COWBELL!
  • Vicki Musselwhite – Only caught the end of her, but loved the strong powerful voice. Saw her before solo so it was nice to see her with a band.
  • Lady Leshurr – Very late (traffic – classic). Fantastic energy and fast lyrics. Great to see so many young girls looking to her as a role model and knowing all the words.
  • New Desert Blues – Always love the dark atmospheric music from this band.
  • Sean McGowan – Local hero and stand-up mush. Loved the crowd singing along to the home-town show. Sean always gives it his all and we love him for it. Glad to see he stopped mid-song to tell the idiots having a fight at the back of the tent to sling their hook.
  • Primal Scream – Was quite a way back so the music didn’t have so much impact – ‘Country Girl’ took me back more than ten years to festivals with my band.
  • Mercy – A local musical collective from Southampton supported by the SoCo Music Project. Some of the boys from my school were performing. I was so proud I whooped a lot. They were amazing (but I may be a little biased).
  • Chas & Dave – classic songs and got everyone happy on a Sunday afternoon. Good work.
  • The Cuban Brothers – Classic mayhem and funky dancing (on and off stage – albeit a little less head-spinny our end). It was good to see them again, especially as a friend I was with had never seen them before and had no idea what to expect. Nakedness ensued.
  • Katy B – Watched her as a wing-man. Only knew a few songs but got to bust a few drum n bass moves.
  • Pretty Vicious – Loud and riotous. The mosh pit consisted of teenagers, but they were having the time of their lives.
  • Various artists at The People’s Front Room – An interestingly decorated living room tent (the kitch sofas and chairs literally match those in my mum’s front room) with random performances throughout the days. Saw some jazz, improv, covers and other jams. A warm, welcoming oasis that I kept being pulled back to.

Saturday evening, I eschewed the lure of Craig David and instead headed for the Uncommon Stage. There I got to see Lonely the Brave for the third time. Every time I see them, I love them a little bit more. They are a most intense band. Their music swells and gives you an unsettled feeling in that you feel that there is something bigger. They are what I call a ‘mean something’ band. I love any type of music as long as it means something. You can tell that as they perform their songs they mean every word of what they sing. Even the other musicians in the band sing along despite being nowhere near a microphone. They love what they do and you can feel it in the music.

Watch this and search your memory to find a performer with more fervour.

I particularly liked the way the lead guitarist handled the excited drunken calls from the crowd. We had come to see them, but some people felt compelled to show how they felt about Mr David on the main stage. “Fuck Craig David” the calls keep coming, their hilarity diminishing on repeat. On the third or fourth segway filled with these calls, the lead guitarist dead-panned “I wish I could,” and then struck out into the next song. A class act all round.

The act I saw more than any other this weekend was the Portsmouth Batala band. If you haven’t seen this band, it needs to be on your to-do list immediately. They are a Afro Brazilian Samba Reggae band. And they are incredible. You can watch this video, but it really doesn’t do it justice; you have to experience them live. The energy they have and the excitement they bring to the crowd is palpable.

I find it impossible to watch them without dancing, and seeing as dancing is one of my favourite things in the world, I am very happy whenever they play. I saw them last year at Common People and the experience blew my tiny little mind. Once again, this year their performance was incredible. Especially as the day wore on, the crowds loved their music. People were dancing and feeding off the energy. I love the fact that just some drums can build together to make such a wall of sound. I end up singing the bom-bom of the beat – don’t judge.  But it’s not just because they’re loud (and man, they are loud – especially if you get stood next to the heps), but the beat of the music. It’s like a heart beat that pulses through you. Then there’s the up and down of the rhythm. It eases off and builds until the drums kick in again; it’s like a defibrilator to the chest. I honestly think they should be prescribed on the NHS.

So, you many have gathered, I’m kind of a fan of Batala. Slightly. This may be their first appearance in this blog, but it certainly won’t be the last. Go see them and then we can compare notes.

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Week twenty – Midweek Magic

I trust my brother. We have the same music tastes (mostly). When he asked me a few weeks ago if I wanted to go see Louis Berry (https://www.facebook.com/louisberry/?fref=ts) at Joiners, I said yes immediately. At that point, I had only heard one of his songs on the Huw Stephens radio show but that was enough. If James liked him and Huw Stephens liked him, I was sure I’d be happy.

So I walked into Joiners on Tuesday night, only having heard one of Louis Berry’s songs.

James and his girlfriend Nat were waiting at the bar for me (with my traditional blackcurrant cordial at the ready). I was late. I had to walk a dog that doesn’t care if I’m on a time schedule – he has a poo only when he feels like it. Damn dog.

James thrust the blackcurrant cordial at me and told me to get into the other room to see the support band. Apparently I’d love them. Which I did. before I saw them, I could hear the aching strains of my beloved harmonica. The harmonica was accompanying a Johnny Cash cover. It was sung in a handsomely husky tone. Once I could see the band, I was treated to a man playing a box. This is one of my favourite things in a band – close to the joy a harmonica brings. The band were called Shoot the Duke (https://www.facebook.com/shoottheduke/)  and despite only hearing half a song, I was sold. (Sidebar – they played again two days later at The Frog and Frigate, but I only found out too late when I was otherwise indisposed – thwarted again! Someone doesn’t want me to see my new favourite band.)

After that tease of music, we finally got to see Louis Berry and his band. Now I’m not just saying this because Louis looks like a very scary man (I wouldn’t want to have an argument with him), but I bloody love this band! Possibly in not the same way as the woman dancing / heckling / propositioning him from the dance floor beneath him. But I love them nonetheless.

From the first note, they set out their stall of frenetic, dirty beat blues, rock n roll. It was impossible to stand still. There was a lot of dancing going on in front of the stage and it was good to see that it wasn’t just pushing / shoving / moshing, but actual dancing. I managed to bust some moves, but my dance space was confined by a wall of people. Who doesn’t love a Tuesday night shimmy?

I was particularly impressed with the band’s bassist. Sure, he wielded that bass like a blues wand, but it was his stage presence that most impressed. It’s traditional for the bassist to be the moodiest band member, but this guy was taking the bass-pout to a whole other level. I doff my hat to you sir.

In spite of only having heard one song before, I enjoyed every live minute they played. Their music is right up my street: big, brash, bluesy anthems you can dance to. A song called ‘Restless’ that started a little slower was absolutely beautiful. It built up into the chorus like a rousing wall of music.

This midweek trip to my favourite place (Joiners – http://www.joinerslive.co.uk) has brought me two of my new favourite live acts. I’m rapidly running out of room on the dream festival line-up in my head. I can’t wait to see Louis Berry and Shoot the Duke again.

 

 

Week nineteen -Spring is in the air

A thought popped into my head earlier in the year that this whole challenge will probably get easier as the warmer weather arrives: more festivals, more random performances and my friends generally come out of hibernation.

And it is looking so. But despite not going to any outdoor shows this week, a random performance came my way unexpectedly.

On arrival in assembly Tuesday morning, a group of five Year 7 girls stood up in front of everyone to sing a beautiful version of “Falling Slowly” from “Once”. This is one of my favourite films, musicals and songs, so I was very happy. The girls looked incredibly nervous to start but eased into it. And credit to the rest of the House Group at school who watched with great respect and quiet. They were singing to promote Live Music Week at school in a few weeks. I hope that their performance has inspired other students to showcase their musical talents.

A little later this week, I saw two performances very different to that assembly act. My brother James, his friend Mike and I headed to Lennon’s to see Spring King. I’d heard a lot about them and knew some of the songs I’d heard on the radio and was very excited to see them live.

Unfortunately, we missed the first support act (as I’ve said before, always go see support acts if you can – you never know when you might find your next favourite band) but the second one was a treat. They were called Get Inuit. (https://www.facebook.com/GetInuit) I’d heard them before on the radio and seen their name on various festival line ups. I remembered them because of their name – who doesn’t love a play on words? Painfully under-represented in the music industry I feel.

Get Inuit turned out to be good at music as well as puns. Fun, chirpy songs that you could tap along to – just what you want in a support band. I also liked the cut of the lead singer’s jib. He spoke to the crowd in a way that I always want lead singers to do. No overly pretentious, self-important drama. He introduced a new song and then added the aside that to most of us, they’re all new anyway. THAT IS THE EXACT COMMENT THAT IS IN MY INTERNAL MONOLOGUE IN THESE SITUATIONS. Thank God someone speaks the truth.

They were a little odd. But I liked them. They sounded like a band you’d see playing at The Bronze or The Bait Shop (*turn of the millennium pop culture klaxon alert ). And that’s no bad thing.

Then Spring King came on. (https://www.facebook.com/springkingmusic/?fref=ts)

They are very loud and very energetic. I hadn’t realised that the lead singer was also the drummer so I spent most of the first song stretching on tiptoes to see where the lead singer was. Yes, I’m short, but usually I can see something of the singer – I knew something was different.

Their songs are incredibly catchy and they look like they’re having a ball – a feeling that’s mirrored by the crowd. A tall, bald man in front of me didn’t stop po-going. I admire his stamina. We all go hot and sweaty, we all sang along and we all had bloody good time.

Spring King are a fantastic live act. That is what this whole challenge is about. I knew of them but only really knew two of their songs. But seeing them live gives you a different, enhanced experience. My favourite – Rectifier – was immense. A brutal, angsty anthem that had everyone dancing (or po-going). But all the songs were performed with such verve that I felt like I knew them all, just like most of the people jumping around at the front seemed to. That’s the power of the small, sweaty club night.

Spring is definitely here. I hope that the good weather brings more music opportunities, and I also hope it brings me back to see Spring King again, maybe at a festival over the summer. Roll on the sunshine and bass lines.

Week eighteen – Name That Tune

Southampton City Centre.

A hazy, sunny Sunday morning.

The heat of the day is increasing with every passing moment.

Everyone is milling about with the excitement of the burgeoning Spring opportunities.

What could make a day like this better?

Why, a brass band of course!

For some reason, a brass band made up of a whole variety of people, old and young, were entertaining the shoppers in the precinct. It’s not usually my music of choice, but on this occasion, it was a blissfully cheerful treat.

The upbeat tempo, the twirling sticks, the shiny brass. Maybe I was drunk on the rare sunshine, or maybe it was just too early for me to fully comprehend what was going on, but I did a little shimmy dance and starting singing along to the brass band version of ‘Rhythm of the Night’. Yes, really.

Although I can’t take any credit for working out what songs they were playing. I thought brass bands played generic brass band songs. Turns out, I was wrong. This brass band played a whole catalogue of modern, pop songs. There was Coldplay, Maroon Five (still shit in brass band form) and even the Frozen soundtrack. Like I said though, I could vaguely recognise the tune, but I couldn’t work out what the actual song was.

This led me to discover that my friend Sophie (previously seen in Week Sixteen) has the much underrated superpower of being able to recognise a song at ten paces. It really is uncanny. A few drums, a few brass instruments and a pair of cymbals and she’s singing along. Whilst I was straining to catch hold of a melody, she was getting ready to join in the chorus.

I know who I want to be paired with when we get invited to appear on ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’. Phil Jupitus will be mightily impressed.

This whole surreal Sunday morning experience goes to show that live music, in whatever form, seriously improves your day, your mood and your life in general. The little girl at the front with the cymbals was complaining during a brief break about the heat, but I’m sure along with the rest of the band, she brought a smile to many people walking through the precinct.

I’m not so sure that the people in the shops directly next to the performance area were quite so happy when they’d been treated to ‘Wipeout’ in brass form for the fourth time. But I suppose you can’t please everyone.

 

Week seventeen – Looper

Last October, my friend Jemma booked someone to play guitar at her birthday party. He’d been recommended by a friend of hers, but I’d never heard of him.

He turned out to be a very talented young man by the name of Joe Wilkinson. Joe has a great voice, plays the guitar (both strings and body) to great effect and has a particular talent for using the loop pedal. He played mostly covers at the party and entertained everyone. It always sounded like more than just a guy and a guitar because he looped various guitar parts and vocals to build up and create a rich, wall of sound for the songs. Many of the covers were versions of well-loved (and some hated, on my part) songs that now sounded like completely new entities.

I was a very happy party-goer.

Later in the year, Jemma had heard that Joe was playing somewhere else in Southampton, so we headed along to check out his music again – mostly for Jemma’s benefit as all the excitement and cake of her party had left her with a mild case of selective amnesia. Again, he worked that loop pedal like a musical magician. He also dealt with a random drunk guy dancing provocatively in front of him and trying to grab the spare mic like a karaoke night.

It’s worth mentioning here that Joe seems like the nicest, politest musician you might ever meet. He’s clearly been brought up with good manners and speaks very gently with respect. Therefore, he dealt with his newest super-fan much more graciously than I would expect anyone to. Joe even indulged this man’s requests by playing a snippet of “I’ve Got a Brand New Combine-harvester” to keep the drunk locals happy.

This week, Jemma and I made our way to The Grapes for a random music treat. It was our third time to hear Joe Wilkinson, and I enjoyed it very much. We had to wait for the footabll to finish, but it was definitely worth the wait. Check out his music here:

One of my particular favourites is his version of “Dakota” by the Stereophonics. I loved that song so much when it came out and this version is possibly even better; it has a real urgency and the build up of sound courtesy of the loop pedal is beautiful. Joint favourite would have to be his version of “Layla” that’s interspersed with a whole variety of other songs. As Jemma and I said: who doesn’t love a mash-up?

Oh man, I’ve even forgotten his version of “No Diggity”. Just go see him yourself to see them all in action. Check out where he’s playing on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/JoeWilkinsonMusic/?fref=ts

Joe also plays a lot of his own music. It’s atmospheric, guitar-based songs with raspy, earnest vocals. I could’ve listened to him all night. Jemma and I settled ourselves into comfy chairs, had enough Salt n Vinegar crisps to keep up going and soaked up the fantastic music. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend an evening.