Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Weekend Review: Horsforth Modern Art / Raise The Roof / Freschard + Stanley Brinks / Manic Street Preachers

My weekend began on Friday evening with a trip to Horsforth Modern Art, a gallery in the sweet surroundings on the outskirts of Leeds. It was the opening of a month long exhibition for Ian Taylor and Brendon Croker and the small and perfectly formed space contained much of their work, as well as all kinds of other treasures. 'Modern Art' is perhaps slightly misleading, but does indicate the broad selection of pieces available, mainly paintings, prints and sculpture. There were Hockney’s and Hirst’s as well as some excellent glasswork and even a selection of books on the history of local music scenes (of which I understand the owner was once part). Most visits to exhibitions (in my experience) are rather austere affairs, in large, largely bare spaces, quiet and ponderous. Which is fine, and I like to go along and stroke my beard.

But this was a little different. It was a lot more cosy and welcoming. The variety of types of work were inspiring and the artists themselves were there to offer insights into their work, which had surrealist touches, but were tied to a more tangible reality, a sense of history and old world running through them that made them accessible. Ian told us about the history involved with a sculpture he had created which included a small Roman broach imbedded into it. Naturally, this made it very expensive. There were lots of works created using found objects and I especially enjoyed the slyly altered countryside maps that were beautifully presented. The whole event did get me pondering about how Art is priced, but my ponderings didn’t get me too far. But it reminded me how important Art is in our lives, and I guess if you are talking value for money, it is something that could last a lifetime. I think it’s important to fill our homes with interesting, creative things, whether they are expensive works of art, or a child’s drawing on the fridge and I found that positive attitude inspiring at HoMA. The night was concluded with Brendon singing a ditty with his Banjo and it was really homely. And so, the exhibition is well worth a visit, even if you're a bit skint, like me.

I then popped across town to the West Indian Community Centre in Chapeltown to attend 'Raise the Roof', which I guess you would say was a 'music event', but only if you were very dull, or at a loss to describe the majesty of what lay within such humble surroundings. We entered to the sounds of Honeydrum, basically about 30 people pounding out rhythms on drums and cowbells whilst people danced around. It was awesome, and with no encouragement the crowd were joining in. I didn’t though, I, erm... had a pint and might have spilt it. It did give me time however to admire the wider spectacle. A massive amount of effort had been put into decorating the room, beautiful banners and Japanese style lampshades, big mushroom chairs and decorated archways beckoning you in. Now, I appreciate you may think, what the hell difference does all that make? Was the music any good? Well it makes the world of difference thank you. It made it feel special and made me feel privileged to be there. It made me feel I was in the hands of interesting, brilliant people, who really care. It made me ashamed that I have ever 'just' put on guitar bands in pubs.

After the excellent performance from the drummers we popped next door to the second room, where we found some rather more electronic beats pumping out. I don’t know the genre, but it sounded fucking cool. It was the start of the night, so it was empty, but I bet it was bouncing in there later on.

Sadly, and in rather boring style, I had to leave early, due to having an early start for work. I was disappointed, as what I'd seen suggested something really positive and massive fun. I missed out on sets by East Park Reggae Collective, Middleman and all kinds of DJ sets, including one by The Sunshine Underground. I did manage to see China Shop Bull, who coincidentally were one of the first bands I reviewed for Rhubarb Bomb, back before the coup, when I was a but an aspirational writer. On that occasion I wasn’t too nice, but they've certainly improved and their heavy Ska / Asian Dub influenced sound was perfect for the occasion.

Next year - must book this off work in advance. Starting at 9pm and ending at 5am... I’m gonna need a long time to recover from that.

Saturday evening i paid a visit to Henry Boons in Wakefield. On the Ride Promotions had organised something a little special in the tiny upstairs room of the pub, and told me I simply must attend. I missed last minute additions to the bill, our old friends IMP, performing what i was informed was a memorable diversion from their usual raucous Indie pop, to a raucous ACOUSTIC Indie pop set.

Main pairing of Clemence Freschard and Stanley Brinks took to the stage next. Freschard, a gently smiling, beautiful and down to earth lady from France played first, Stanley backing her up with some cleverly understated guitar. I love it when artists take the old girl / boy and a guitar and manage to do something special with it. I sit there examining the chords and thinking about the melodies and there's nothing especially clever or innovative, just the bare bones of something unfathomably perfect. In this case, and recently with David Tattersall, on whoms album Freschard recently appeared, the result is utterly captivating. The gentle, genuine approach, the sweet French pronunciations and the intimate surroundings made this a wonderful experience and I could quite happily have sat their and listened to her songs all night.

Stanley Brinks then took to the stage alone for a run through of his songs. A little darker and more solemn in tone, with some quite seedy suggestiveness, if i was hearing things right, it wasn’t quite as effecting as the first half, but still a very delicate lesson in minimalism. The songs were so quiet that you could often hear the music pounding through the floor below. For this was Saturday night in Wakefield. An occasional vision of actual hell. Tonight, On the Ride managed to carve a little bit of bliss amidst the horror of a Wakefield Westgate Weekend and I have to admit, part of me was sat there thinking; there's a French person on stage! That’s how backward things can get here. On The Ride have made my weekend. I leave feeling becalmed and at peace. Then, as I hit the bottom of the stairs and I am faced with the stag and hen and office parties dancing to SHIT and its almost washed away. But not completely.

In true Craig David style, I 'chilled' on Sunday. Well, I worked ten hours, but you know what I mean.

Then Monday night, I made my way up to Leeds Academy to see the Manic Street Preachers. I like the Academy; it’s a great venue to see someone like the Manics in. It’s actually pretty intimate in there, for an Academy type venue and tonight it is sold out. Its just makes for a better Manic’s gig, instead of the arenas they were only half filling five years ago. First up though are British Sea Power who I saw loads years ago, but haven’t seen since their 'Do You Like Rock Music?' album. They were still good, but in a slightly different way. They are more what I would describe as 'Arcade Fire-y' which may be wrong, perhaps more what I expect Arcade Fire to sound like since I’ve never really got into them at all. I always liked BSPs wistful, yearning vocals, which are still present, and it’s a pretty varied set. At their own gig, perhaps at Brudenell, I would have lapped it up. But here, I, and everyone else in the room only want one thing...

The curtain is removed to reveal a bizarre stage set of disco ball mirror covered mannequins, one a full on muscled Mr Universe type, another with an acoustic, sat on the bass amp. Very odd, and funny too, better than a simply recreation of the latest albums artwork. They bounce on stage, Nicky Wire looking the best he has in a decade, with a delightful Leopard skin jacket he picked up during the day. Launching straight into 'You Love Us', 'Your Love Alone' and 'Motorcycle Emptiness' the room is electric. Any fear that the writing and recording of their rather tame, yet passionate, new album 'Postcards From A Young Man' would result in a similar live show are blown out of the water.

As ever, it’s a hit heavy set with a fair mix from all their 10 albums (only 'Know Your Enemy' and Lifeblood' are ignored) and non album tracks 'Motown Junk', 'Suicide is Painless' and 'The Masses against the Classes'. How can they still play Motown Junk, a song they wrote over 20 years ago with such passion and conviction? I don’t know, and it’s probably a question they ask themselves often. But tonight finds them completely within the moment and the lap up every second of the admiring crowd. 'Leeds you're on fire tonight!' James Dean Bradfield declares. They are unashamedly crowd pleasing tonight and look like they are having the time of their lives. An unusual and slow rendition of 'This is Yesterday' is moving, a spiky retread of 'Jackie Collins Existential Question Time' is sinister and JDB's 2 song mid set acoustic section is great, leading to crowd singalongs of 'Stay Beautiful' and 'You Stole The Sun From My Heart'. Slightly cheesy? Perhaps, but wonderful all the same.

Its gigs like this that I want my non Manic appreciating fans to see. For all the spiel I could produce about how intelligent and ambitious and magnificent they were, and can still be, all the examples of the amazing things they have achieved, if they were to see a live performance like this... it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t 'get it' and weren't into them as a whole; the pure power and energy of performances like this would surely win them over. I’m not a Manic’s fan with the blinkers on, but I always have time for them. It’s interesting that despite all their stylistic experiments since their commercial peak 10 years ago, the live show has always remained high energy. If they were to build an album around that idea... that Motown Junk still sounds fantastic live... well, y'never know.

Interestingly, before the show i found myself surrounded by what could only be described as 'idiots', loudmouthed, small brained blokes and their birds mouthing such inanities it took all my energy not to bash em. Yet later in the gig I would see them mouthing along to the words and I had to think twice. I never really believed that thing about subverting the masses from within. I believed in it as an idea, but I thought, in the Manics case at least, it was long dead as a prospect. Yet here it was in action and I thought that was pretty cool. Ive never seen the band so at ease and enjoying themselves so much. Its was a great night.

Dean Freeman

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