Monday, 28 May 2012

Crooked Ways Festival Review

Crooked Ways 2012
Pontefract Park
Sat 26th May

Let’s put on a festival” I imagine they said. “Where?” somebody might have asked… “Pontefract Park?”, somebody else may have ventured. “Why not?”, “It might rain”, “So let’s have it in May!” must have been the thinking. And so, maybe, that is how Crooked Ways 2012 came to be; a good idea as long as the sun shines.

The next consideration would have been the bands, the obvious thing in curating a festival is to choose bands that will draw a crowd as well as showcasing exciting, new talent. Three stages covered these bases, with the Crooked Ways Presents stage, The Institution and the Main Stage all offering an impressive number of acts, totalling 30 throughout the day.

Yet is it that simple? Well, no, it isn’t. For a start, I think the organisers will today be counting the cost of a couple of lessons learnt; mainly, the ticketing policy. A couple of issues arose here, at £30 each it felt a bit steep and I can hear the “30 bands, 30 quid= bargain” argument but for me it just doesn’t wash because you never see all of them. Another point to bear in mind here is that thirty quid is thirty quid and the crowd bore witness to the fact that people weren’t ready to spend that much on a day in the park, which is a shame but also it isn’t too difficult to work out. So, round one, value for money, null points I’m afraid.

 However, read on because it gets better, especially for those Razorlight fans who enjoyed a fairly intimate gig with their heroes…

Round 2, the acts: a fairly eclectic line-up was accommodated in three tents which were suitably distant to avoid overlapping sound, something which is a constant irritation for both the bands and their fans at the smaller community festivals that spring up every summer. The tents themselves were fairly small though, with the ‘Crooked Ways Presents’ tent offering the audience no more floor space than a large double garage. The name was a little confusing because I expected it to be a ‘new music’ type of tent, yet it was opened by Road To Horizon who have an EP out on iTunes shortly and a touring slot with Funeral For A Friend in the bag, it also featured Piskie Sits later, who need no introduction, having been active for years!

Both of these bands know how to entertain and, speaking to Road To Horizon after their set, I found that they were happy to open the day because it was just the kind of day they would love to be at themselves if they were in the crowd. In between these two I also enjoyed a solid performance by Route 19, who were more punk rock than they looked; they seemed to enjoy themselves and the tent was full to bursting throughout their set.

‘The Institution’ was a better proposition in terms of size and was full for most of the day, with a reasonable overspill in the afternoon. The Glass Caves brought the day to life in there, as they fired layer upon layer of solid, stylish indie pop at a receptive audience. I particularly enjoyed Club Smith in there who bombarded the crowd with guitar led pop and chant-along choruses; they took the honour of being the first band of the day to achieve some synchronised foot tapping / head nodding. Dancing came later…

On the main stage, Wakefield’s All We Know opened the day with an energetic set; although it was possible to play ‘spot the drummer’ due to the piles of other people’s gear obscuring him from view, they were never intimidated and gave a good account of themselves. Sheffield’s Feral Brood seemed to enjoy the attention and filled the stage well with their dual vocalists and some witty banter in between songs, but it was only when Wakefield’s Skint & Demoralised took to the stage that we saw the first real dancing of the afternoon. Their confident, sure footed show grabbed the crowd’s attention and gave us a tantalising glimpse of what Crooked Ways could have been. What happened next sealed it for me.

Hyde & Beast managed about 45 seconds of their first song twice, they were plagued by technical difficulties which were received with good humour by the band and crowd. At first. By the time their third attempt at completing a number fell flat, their lead singer’s patience was already being tested. They regrouped, tried again and managed just 30 seconds before leaving the stage to friendly, consolatory applause.

Alarm bells were ringing now, was this it? Had the gremlins won, was the day lost? By now, the arena was fuller than it had been mid-afternoon, but nowhere near its capacity; which is a good thing because I doubt that the toilets and well overpriced food facilities would have coped. The show needed a hero, and two were lining up in the wings, the first one, King Charles graced the stage dressed like a surfing aristocrat in brown shoes, mustard board shorts and white dinner jacket and left it a hero having also had to restart a song. They worked the crowd and lifted proceedings, they also wandered the arena meeting fans after their set. One of the triumphs of Crooked Ways was the laid back vibe and interaction between artists and paying public.

Then, it was time for worship. Reverend and the Makers took to the stage and instantly the crowd were drawn like moths to a flame. Their enthusiasm and determination to deliver was impressive. As the sun started to set and the acres of milk bottle white flesh throbbed Tizer red, their set lifted the crowd at just the right time, a chill wind stirred the park and the early evening became a time for contemplation of what might have been. What if it had rained, what if it had been cheaper, what if the crowd had been less positive?

Curating a festival is a balancing act, the artists were happy enough to be there, perhaps with one exception; the crowd were happy to be there, they created a lovely atmosphere that suggests this is a task worth repeating, but there were more laminates than ticket holders for long periods of time and the infrastructure needs tightening up- some punters  were put off by the high on the day cover charge; under 14s were welcome, but for what price; the loos were clean but were they sufficient for the intended capacity?

At tea time, the thought occurred to me that some people might only be turning out for the headliners, I felt this was missing the point. While I can see how £30 for Reverend & The Makers followed by Razorlight could still make financial sense to some gig-goers, if that was the case, which it wasn’t in the final reckoning, then they were missing the point. Crooked Ways 2012 was supposed to be Pontefract’s big day out in the sun; the sun turned out, but where was Pontefract? This is the crux of the issue; put a show on, get the acts, but make sure that people know about it and care enough to turn out.

In the end, a small but happy crowd got to see Razorlight perform a decent set through a not perfect rig at the end of a pretty perfect summer’s day in Yorkshire.

If you were there, well done you. If they put it on next year, take a friend for God’s sake!

Matthew Rhodie

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Review of The Cribs Homecoming Show

The Cribs / Retarded Fish / The Black Belles
JD Roots, Theatre Royal, Wakefield
16th May 2012

A polite queue of anticipation blocks up the pavement on an unusually busy Wednesday night in Wakefield, home town of The Cribs. Almost ten years to the day since their first gig, barely 100 yards away at the once legendary dive bar McDermott’s, the Jarman brothers have returned to play a ‘homecoming gig’, their first in the city in over five years.

Despite the corporate sponsorship and the fact that the show is taking place in a sit-down theatre, it is clear from the start that this is a deeply personal affair for the band. Main support Retarded Fish were one of the first bands the young Jarmans saw and if the legions of fans want to trace their lineage to square one, this is it. The band, now older but likely not wiser, hammer out some of their mid-nineties post hardcore indebted punk to rapturous response from an overwhelmingly local crowd. Their smiles at this most bizarre situation (the band split in 1996) are infectious and are only beaten by those of Ryan Jarman, bouncing around side stage with his cameraphone, once again the star-struck teen.

That boyish wonder is all the more evident when The Cribs finally take to the stage. The quick one-two of Chi-Town ­/ I’m a Realist has the crowd attempting to mosh considerately around velvet seats and sees both balconies threaten to collapse under the shifting weight. It’s clear immediately this is not just another show. The vital energy from stage to crowd is returned ten-fold and the barely 400 capacity venue is in thrall to every second, from first single Baby Don’t Sweat to tracks from their most recent record In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull. The shout-outs from the band span their career; Little Japanese Toy who organised their first gig, local practice room owner ‘Clink’, Squirrel Records, Lee Ranaldo and local legends Pylon, their A Million Thousand Giant Steps becoming an ad hoc intro to Men’s Needs.

But this isn’t a nostalgia trip. Sentimental; undoubtedly, but the core feeling is one of celebration. Ryan Jarman’s histrionic guitar displays are pure tongue in cheek, acceptance of his own childhood air guitar dreams made true and of those the band continue to inspire in others. For a band initially so inspired by Nirvana, it is the sense of the absurd as much as the punk rock / DIY attitude that has been key to their survival. It’s this lack of ego and sense of pure fun that avoids the event seeming self congratulatory; we are all part of this celebration.

The hardcore fanbase are treated to some rarities. The Lights Went Out and To Jackson are joyously received, and that their newest album in some ways returns to the sound of those earlier records means that, with choice Johnny Marr co-writes included, the band now has a ‘greatest hits’ set spanning ten years that could go head to head with anyone in the world.

There are still no encores but that’s another ideal well worth sticking to. Instead they hang out with their fans and friends at the pub across the road. The Cribs have come home and with the band truly returning to its roots the future for them looks very bright indeed.

Words: Dean Freeman
Photos: Dan Stringer 

*There will be an article by Dan Stringer, drummer with Retarded Fish in the next issue, detailing the experiance of their reformation

Monday, 21 May 2012

Guide To Long Division Bands

We've got a hell of a lot of bands coming to Wakefield for Long Division. I keep remembering about another band that had slipped from memory and start getting excited about them all over again.

The thing about Long Division is that we don't have a singular big name. No "The Cure" or "Razorlight". That was our choice. Instead we wanted to give you quality, right across the board. But it does mean there is a chance you might miss something amazing lower down the bill. So, to try and help you (as well as myself), I have put some videos up on our blog, grouped into various vague catagories, to kinda show the breadth of stuff going on. Bare in mind, with all the Fringe Festival goings on included, this is only about half the bands playing over the weekend. Have fun!

Chamber Pop
Hidden Gems
Indie Pop
Less Is More
New To Rhubarb Bomb

LD Bands: Chamber Pop

Basically, reverb soaked pop loveliness or mildly epic brilliance given a new lease of life in a vast open space.

My Sad Captains
(The Orangery 19:45)

St Gregory Orange
(Theatre Royal 19:30)
(Theatre Royal 18:30)

Post War Glamour Girls
(Town Hall 15:00)

Mammal Club
(Theatre Royal 15:30)

LD Bands: Dance

Stuff to get them feet moving. It’s not just about standing around and stroking your beard y’know.

Dutch Uncles
(The Hop, Upstairs 21:45)

Evans The Death
(Town Hall 19:00)

(The Hop, Upstairs 20:30)

Napoleon IIIrd
(Theatre Royal 17:30)

The Longcut
(The Hop, Upstairs 23:00)

LD Bands: European

Our friends from the continent!

Herman Dune
(Theatre Royal 22:00)

Francois & The Atlas Mountains
(Henry Boons 17:15)

Sudden Spark
(The Old Courtroom 19:45)

(Velvet 13:15)

LD Bands: Folk

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars / Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs / Scottish

Bands who feed from the incredibly wide and hard to distinguish genre of ‘Folk’.

Three Sheets T’Wind
(Velvet 19:15)

Pip Mountjoy
(The Old Courtroom 16:45)

Rosie Doonan
(Mustangs 16:45)

The Passing Fancy
(The Hop, Downstairs 12:00)

Will Stratton
(The Orangery 17:45)

LD Bands: Hidden Gems

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars / Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs / Scottish

Bits and pieces hidden around the Long Division schedule you might have missed but really shouldn’t!

(SUNDAY 3RD JUNE. Free gig at The Hop)

(The Hop, Upstairs 19:30)

Johnny Foreigner
(FRIDAY 1ST JUNE. Free Opening Party at The Hop)

Sam Forrest
(The Old Courtroom, 18:45)


LD Bands: Indie Pop

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars / Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs / Scottish

Yay! Upbeat, energetic, bounce around mad Indie-Pop.

Standard Fare
(The Hop, Downstairs 17:00)

This Many Boyfriends
(The Hop, Upstairs 16:30)

White Town
(The Old Courtroom 20:45)

ABC Club
(The Hop, Downstairs 18:00)

Vinyl Party
(Henry Boons 13:15)

LD Bands: Guitars

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs / Scottish

Stuff with guitars. Guitar driven things. Bands that would sound weird if their guitars stopped working.

Art Brut
(Mustangs 19:00)

Runaround Kids
(Town Hall 17:00

The Spills
(Mustangs 20:30)

Fever Dream
(The Orangery 13:15)
(The Hop, Upstairs 12:15)

LD Bands: Less Is More

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars / Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs / Scottish

Sometimes you don’t need a huge amp and five bandmates to make an impact. Sometimes less is more.

Skint & Demoralised
(Velvet 21:15)

(Theatre Royal 16:30)

Soulmates Never Die
(The Old Courtroom 15:45)

Louise Distras
(Velvet 20:15)

H Hawkline
(The Orangery 14:45)

LD Bands: New To Rhubarb Bomb

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars / Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs / Scottish

Due to a number of stages being curated by other people, some of the bands are new to Rhubarb Bomb. But they are still bloody fantastic.

Dan Michaelson
(The Orangery 20:45)

(The Orangery 16:45)

O’Messy Life
(Henry Boons 14:15)

Advances In Mathematics
(Town Hall 13:00)

Withered Hand
(Henry Boons 16:00)

LD Bands: Riffs

Labels: Chamber Pop / Dance / European / Folk / Hidden Gems / Indie Pop / Guitars / Less Is More / New To Rhubarb Bomb / Riffs Scottish

You know what I’m talking about. Pure RIFF manna from heaven.

Gentlemans Pistols
(The Hop, Upstairs 17:30)

Red Riding Quartet
(Velvet 14:15)
(Velvet 22:15)
(Town Hall 18:00)

The Do’s
(The Hop, Downstairs 16:00)

LD Bands: "Scottish"

As you are surely aware, Scotland produces the best Indie music in the world. Even better than Wakefield.

Aidan Moffat & Bill Wells
(Theatre Royal 20:30)

The Twilight Sad
(Mustangs 15:30)

Kid Canaveral
(Henry Boons 15:15)

The Vaselines
(Mustangs 21:45)

Mi Mye (we know they are a Wakefield band but Jamie is Scottish so it counts!)
(Theatre Royal 14:30)

Tuesday, 15 May 2012


Black Moth – The Cockpit

I’ve been keen to catch Black Moth live since reviewing their split 7” with XM-3A for Rhubarb Bomb.  Sadly, when they played with the excellent Gentlemans Pistols at The Hop in Wakefield I was at a wedding in their native Leeds. Still, the best things come to those who wait (Read my review of their single, it seems they like making us wait, their debut album was originally scheduled for last autumn but emerged on the 7th of May.)

The quintet’s set kicks-off with ‘Blackbirds Fall’, a crushingly heavy number that I’d originally heard on extreme metal magazine Terrorizer’s cover mount CD; that the song has also been garnering plays on Mark Radcliffe’s 6 Music show highlights their enormous cross-over appeal. An impressive turnout at The Cockpit for what is only the second of slot of the day at the venue underlines this. Those who have made the effort to get here early are not disappointed by a set that largely lives up to Black Moth’s potential. For one thing they sound huge; the recent addition of a second guitarist can’t have hindered them in this department, although having never seen them as a quartet (Curses!) I’m speculating somewhat. Harriet’s vocals, which still bring to mind Melissa Auf Der Maur, are most effective on the slower, doomy numbers. Occasionally during the faster sections of songs such as ‘Chickenshit’ she seems to stretch herself a little thin, but at its most powerful her voice has certain, mesmerising, black magic, quality. Not only do you feel like they dabble in the dark arts, but clearly they’re not averse to worshipping at the altar of their fellow Black prefixed Brits, Sabbath. In fact towards the end of their set they go straight to Black Sabbath’s self-titled anthem and adopt the spirit of THAT breakdown during ‘Plastic Blaze’.

As Rhubarb Bomb designer Matt Sidebottom points out after their set, Leeds has become a hotbed for heavy music of late and Black Moth are clearly one of their brightest hopes.

I Like Trains – O2 Academy

On our way up to the O2 Academy my girlfriend and I catch sight of comedian Rory McGrath, he’s taller and slimmer than we imagined, and sadly his wrists were covered so I couldn’t tell you if he was in town for Live At Leeds. One person who certainly was is the French girl who came over for last year’s Long Division just to see I Like Trains. Her dedication had lead to me watching them at Wakefield Town Hall that day and having been suitably impressed I decide to catch them at the rather less intimate Academy.

With most of the day still ahead of us we decide to watch them from the balcony seats, all of which had a flyer for the forthcoming Leeds Whisky Festival. Now I had a number of flyers for Long Division on me and was keen to distribute them around Live At Leeds’ venues but for two reasons I chose not to hand any out in the Academy. Firstly said Whiskey Festival clashes with Long Division and I had a feeling that the Academy staff would not take too kindly to me trying to entice their potential customers away. Secondly said potential customers just turned the flyers into paper airplanes and threw them at the crowd in the stalls. An activity that got several people ejected from the venue! Frankly I’m glad I didn’t waste the flyers here.

Choosing a target if you wished to throw rubbish at those in the stalls was like shooting fish in a barrel as they were nearly full by the time I Like Trains’ slowly pulsing intro to ‘Beacons’ began. It’s a pleasing sight given they are the opening band at the venue (Although later in the day I got the impression that once inside most of the punters didn’t leave here) and what little space remains is effortlessly filled by the sounds the band generate. For the most part they concentrate on new album ‘The Shallow’, although airing seven of its songs means there is a lot to try and take in. As a result they don’t quite scale the heights of their Long Division set. Still with Chris Urbanowicz recently departing Editors, a band who I Like Trains remind me of, it would be quite easy to imagine them building up a similar following given the size of the audience they’ve just performed to.

Bears Killing Bears – The Well

I was drawn to The Well for Bears Killing Bears purely on the strength of the description of them in the programme “Thrash punks kicking out loud fast and dirty jams in the vein of Motorhead and Black Sabbath…” and the accompanying photo, in which they are all clutching Royal Wedding commemoration mugs, except the guy on the left with his Iron Maiden mug! Unfortunately they are the first disappointment of the day. Granted it would be an even bigger disappointment if The Well had ceased to be a music venue, which was very nearly the case. Credit to the new owners for clearly trying to stamp their identity on the place, there are some obvious changes, sadly the sound through the newly installed PA is not great. In the past you were practically guaranteed a great sound at gigs here. That said it helps if the band on stage are at the top of their game and Bears Killing Bears came across as sloppy, whilst the limited vocals and banter, possibly due to a poor onstage sound didn’t help matters. We exit to the bar where a convenient speaker feed meant you could still hear the band’s set, although nothing I heard tempted me back downstairs. In retrospect having decided not to watch Bears Killing Bears in the flesh we should probably have bailed out of The Well there and then as the running order meant there was no space between them and my next pick from the 100+ bands playing today.

Runners – Leeds University Stylus

At one time I considered myself a middle-distance runner; sadly those days are behind me, so it was more of a brisk walk that got me to the Stylus in time to catch the majority of Runners set. I was originally introduced to them by artist Richard Wheater who had them perform at the ‘Switch-Off Party’ for his ‘12 Months of Neon Love’ installation at Wakefield’s Neon Workshop. It was perhaps one of the most intimate venues I have ever witnessed a gig at in Wakefield which created a special one-off vibe. It was unlikely such a vibe would transfer to the comparatively cavernous Stylus.

 Unlike the Refectory upstairs I’ve always enjoyed watching bands in here, although they have tended to be heavy bands playing Damnation Festival, which unlike Live At Leeds only utilises the University. Damnation’s set up means the Stylus is always relatively full, whereas few souls have ventured up here today. It’s something of a surprise, as the combination of synths and live drums they employ seems quite prevalent at the moment (The majority of the bands I catch have at least a token keyboard player). For the majority of their set vocalist Dominic is rather obviously restricted to the stage by his synth, although during their set closer he ventures out into the crowd. Amusingly his banter comes across as robotic, although this is down to the vocal effects he employs, meaning that it is a cyborg-esque voice that emerges from the speakers, informing the audience “This is the last song of the set”. There’s a lot to be said for the bands humour, clearly they have a very human heart, if only there’d been a few more humans here to hear it pounding.

Karin Park – Leeds University Mine

With an hour to kill before Post War Glamour Girls I decide to heed I Like Trains vocalist’s earlier suggestion that everyone should catch an act they’ve never heard of. That the Mine is situated just down the corridor from the Stylus is the deciding factor in watching Karin Park.

Upon entering the Mine I’m met by the sight of a blond haired drummer in a Slayer t-shirt, who wouldn’t look out of place at Damnation festival, going through a sound check. The plot rapidly thickens when a woman over six foot tall wearing what can only be described as a ‘flashers mac’ and Doc Martens boots walks onstage and proceeds to go through a soundcheck of her various synths. It transpires that the duo is siblings Karin and David Park. As with the preceding Runners their sound is a combination of synths and live drums, but whereas Runners front man Dominic made little attempt to engage the crowd, Karin has them in the palm of her hands from pretty much the word go.

I’ve found that the sound in the Mine can be hit and miss, but as with the majority of those in attendance I’m drawn closer and closer to the stage during Park’s set, with a near perfect mix accentuating nearly all the facets of their sound. Karin’s voice brings to mind Bjork, but whilst the Icelandic legend seems to have quite a diminutive stature, Karin towers over the audience like a raven tressed Scandinavian Grace Jones; with David occasionally adding his voice to proceedings in a way that perfectly complements his sisters vocals.

Musically we’re talking extremely danceable, darkened electronica. Much as I enjoyed Runners beforehand, they seem pedestrian in comparison. It helps that Karin immerses herself in her own moves, which probably account for her toned frame

but she looks that focused that she’s not going to have a split second to pick out the worst dancers in the audience (I count myself in that category!) Generally she’s freed up to move around the stage by a laptop and a less than portable Korg synth, however during several songs she straps on one of those ‘keytar’ synths. It’s an instrument I generally regard as the harbinger of doom and general awfulness (I’m thinking of supposed metal ‘pirates’ Alestorm, they didn’t look very Somalian to me!) but in Karin’s hands it took on a new quality as a sonic weapon, set to stun an audience. And that’s really all there is to say about this performance, it was simply stunning. Highlight of the day so far and to think 40 minutes previously I’d never heard of Karin Park.

Post War Glamour Girls – The Well

With Rhubarb Bomb designer Matt down at The Cockpit snapping Fanzine holding copies of this particular fanzine my one and only line-up dilemma thus far had been resolved (It helps that both bands are playing Long Division, I’ll catch Fanzine then). So it was back to The Well (A much shorter walk thankfully!) for Post War Glamour Girls.

The band are still sound checking when we head downstairs, which suggests the Well is running behind schedule, in turn this leads me to believe that the problems with the sound during Bears Killing Bears may still be an issue. As the quartet commence their set my worst fears are initially confirmed, the bass amp’s speaker sounds like it is exhaling its dying breath, rendering said bass an awful flapping noise. Despite the tentative start their front man’s humour helps to keep me interested; I’m quite certain that ‘Trawlerman’s Trade’ wasn’t just about “Fishing laws in Europe” and his remark about The Enemy was cutting. Fortunately, unlike Bears Killing Bears earlier the sound improves and the band seem to grow in confidence as the set progresses, although my girlfriend argued afterwards that the front man’s vocals were occasionally out of tune. Me, I think his Cave-esque croon suits the material and sometimes its more about vibe than being note perfect. I would liked to have heard more vocals from the bassist as I think some of the set’s highlights were when she stepped up to the mic as well, ‘Spitting Pearls’ being the best example of this. It’s slow, shimmering fret work created an atmosphere that put me in mind of Swedes Khoma.

In his preview of Live At Leeds Rhubarb Bomb editor Dean Freeman cited Post War Glamour Girls as a “Band I know of but want to know more about” and I’m glad I took his advice. They’re playing Wakefield Town Hall at 15:00 as part of Long Division, giving you an ample 15 minutes to get there after you’ve finished watch Red Riding Quartet!

Ladyhawke – O2 Academy

With an even more ample hour to kill before Ladyhawke at the Academy we take a steady stroll round the edge of Millennium Square where Example and Wretch 32 are playing their own headline gig. What I hear from behind the fencing is an MC geeing up the crowd by playing Blur’s ‘Park life’ whilst talking over it. I thought that was the trademark of shit, annoying disc jockeys! Things get slightly better at the Academy, where they are still airing Queens Of The Stone Age over the PA, including one of those ‘shit, annoying disc jockey’ skits from their ‘Songs For The Deaf’ album.

Ideally we would have sat upstairs again, but the balcony had already reached capacity and few, if any, people seem to leave downstairs following the end of Spector. As I alluded to earlier I suspect most of the crowd (I use that term as all the discarded FA Cup betting slips in the men’s urinals and questions of “Who won Chelsea or Liverpool?” in the downstairs bar, mark this out as a football crowd checking out a few bands rather than a music loving audience) have probably not set foot in another venue all day. In fact the majority will be here right until the end of The Enemy, their loss!

As it turns out we don’t even stay till the end of Ladyhawke. As soon as the set starts beer is being thrown into the air, having just spent £4 on a can of cider it’s hard to contemplate why anyone would willingly spill even a drop in the Academy. As for Pip Brown and her band, they kick off with ‘Back Of The Van’, a place Ladyhawke probably ceased to call home from home some time ago. It’s all very slick, with a knowing nod to eighties pop and not much else. If I Like Trains never reached top gear earlier, Ladyhawke are (Well technically they ‘are’ a band) on autopilot from the word go, with the four musicians backing Pip displaying hardly an ounce of emotion between them. We leave in search of something more engaging, although not before they play ‘Dusk Till Dawn’, an earworm of a song that I wake up singing the next day. I’ll give Ladyhawke their dues, they know how to write a catchy hook, shame it’s such a sterile one.

Kyla La Grange – Brudenell Social Club

The prospect of heading down to Brudenell had loomed all day, to walk would have been an epic undertaking, and thankfully there was a taxi rank just down from the Academy. Within ten minutes we’re in the altogether more pleasant surroundings of Brudenell Social Club. With plenty of room to sit and hardly any queue at the bar for two pints of reasonably priced Estrella; this is a gig goer’s heaven!

Catching the end of Kyla La Grange’s set I get the impression it’s a musicians heaven as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad gig here. Both audience and performer are making a genuine gesture by being in this building given that it’s some distance from the Leeds’ music venue heartland. Unlike Ladyhawke previously this comes across as so much more than a talented vocalist and her backing band, despite Kyla’s name being above the door (I’m not sure she’s even old enough to be a publican!) this is very much a fully fledged unit. The programme compares Kyla’s music to Florence & The Machine, which holds some water, but her folk tinged vocals show a level of restraint that mark her out as no mere Florence clone trying to out bellow Miss Welch. That she’s happy to pose with several members of the audience for photos after her set shows she not only won them over but that she’s very approachable too. Well worth keeping an eye and an ear out for.

Jamie N Commons

Prior to Jamie N Common’s set I wasn’t a religious man, but I was praying his performance lived up to the one track of his heard I’d heard on Lauren Laverne’s 6 Music show. Said track had prompted one of Lauren’s listeners to text her with the words “Mark Lanegan Junior”. At 25 years Common’s senior Lanegan is certainly old enough to have fathered him and Common’s voice contains echoes of Lanegan’s substance soaked tones, but by the end of his set it’s clear the 22 year old is very much his own man.

I’d staked my reputation on the basis of that one song, ‘The Preacher’, in order to convince my girlfriend that a trip to the Brudenell would be worth it and within seconds of the band commencing their opening number I knew it would be intact. It saw the majority of the band singing in an acappela fashion that moved me to tears. But they were tears of joy; I’ve permanently regretted leaving it too late to get tickets for Mark Lanegan’s acoustic gig here in 2010. Well no more regrets, I simply can’t believe that gig could have been any better than tonight (I’d like to point out I have the CD of Lanegan’s Brudenell set, it does sound great). There’s laughter as well, in that sense Commons is the complete opposite to Lanegan, who is a man of few words. Commons engages with the audience between all the songs (Sample quote “This is the romantic song for the evening, with added harmonica too!”) and despite brandishing a guitar he’s a blur of motion when he’s not at the microphone stand. When he is singing what comes out of his mouth is a thing of beauty, a deep rich voice, that given Commons’ youth leads me to believe he has a God given talent, either that or he sold his soul to the Devil; I’m a convert regardless. When speaking with Commons after his set my girlfriend described the performance as “Life changing!”, okay maybe we were a bit tired and emotional but those two words perfectly sum what we’d just witnessed; hands down the pinnacle of the day.

Los Campesinos

Rather than pay for a taxi all the way to Leeds station we get one to the University in order to meet up with Matt again. We briefly compare notes, but once Los Campesinos get under way it’s clear nothing is going to top Jamie N Commons set, so rather than fork out for another taxi we say our goodbyes and head down to the station for the last train back to Wakefield. As we pass through Westgate you can pretty much see every venue that will be involved in Long Division from the station. Much as I enjoyed the bands at Live At Leeds logistically it’s a slog compared to Long Division. And for my money the line-up at the Academy would have been better run as a separate entity, perhaps on the Sunday. But these are minor quibbles, if you’re willing to put in the legwork you easily got your monies worth.

Andrew Whittaker

Friday, 11 May 2012

"The Shallows" - I Like Trains Review

I Like Trains
The Shallows
I Like Records

I Like Trains last album, He Who Saw The Deep had a lot resting on it but thankfully a determination to prove themselves to the world shone through. A desire to push themselves, their sound and their ideas out of their comfort zone proved a success. With that reinvention, The Shallows could easily see them rest upon it. But no, once again we have something rather different which sees them spreading their talents into different, experimental sonic locations.

The Shallows lacks the mass crescendos of their earlier work, instead working in structures long and drawn with almost Krautrock rhythms, akin to where Mogwai went with some of their last album. The opening of first track Beacons is pure Phantom Band. The Turning Of The Bones, In Tongues and We Used To Talk all feature a dull 4/4 kick drum for their openings. Subtle electronics hang across the record, basslines synthesised, beats more metronomic and rattling. At first I thought this came across as a colder sound, akin to the sparser compositions of Joy Division but after a few listens that feels the wrong word. Although there is a lot of space between the sounds there is warmth sneaking through, a distant glow, but nothing more.

Tracks like Reykjavik combine the newfound optimism of album two with the new approach to a driving dynamic; a carefree cartwheel that reminds me slightly of Weird Fish / Apreggi by Radiohead. But generally the more electronica based approach to dynamics means songs have a less emotional impact and can wash over you, on first listen. Over time it is the sound palette and the mood of the album that works its way into your consciousness more than the songs themselves, which is an interesting accomplishment and one that certainly allows the album to slowly reveal itself, as all great albums do. 

Perhaps a weakness of the album is the lyrical side of things. Again, they have grown on me over the repeated listens. But there does seem to be a growing reliance on stock phrases such as “The Devil will find work for idle hands to do”, “We will burn in hell for this”, “As we spread our wings”, “We lay our cards out on the table” and “From the belly of the beast”. Sometimes it feels a song has grown to certain point where we need an insight, a “sting in the tail” and a loose phrase of little imagination appears. Whereas that technique has worked in the past (“They’ve built mountains out of molehills / Let them climb” from A Rook House For Bobby) it occurred when spoken in the form of the characters that populated their earlier historical work. It may well be that we have characters here, apparently expressing a fear of technology in our modern world, but its less clear and on occasion a beam of triteness comes through.

I respect I Like Trains determination to push themselves creatively and this record probably sets them in good stead for the future as being a group not to rest on a specific format. But it also makes it hard to rank against their other work. As it stands, the album is structured well, with the one-two of Beacons / Mnemosyne introducing this new style, the middle working with it but on a more familiar ground and the last two tracks moving the electronics into darker territory. In Tongues, the closing track ends up where we started, with a thumping bass note, repeated. Although the circular nature is interesting, I would have liked to have seen them let rip with a pure sonic assault at the conclusion; it is the only track that feels unfinished.

It’s a great record, though not exactly what I thought I wanted or at least expected from I Like Trains. As may become their trademark, it has left me puzzled as to where they will go next but also very keen to hear these tunes realised at their live shows. I suspect, after that, this album will suddenly make a lot more sense.

Dean Freeman

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

"Midnight At The Sycamore Lounge" Review

Long-awaited is an oft used term isn’t it? It is one that is completely relative. Waiting for the kettle to boil can seem like forever. A bus ride into town on a stinking hangover can feel like three lifetimes. But this record, St Gregory Orange’s second, fits the term perfectly.

Rhubarb Bomb first previewed it sometime in 2010. It was then expected in Spring 2011 in time for the unveiling of the new four piece live setup at Long Division. Another deadline slipped. Although that was perhaps the problem; there wasn’t really a deadline. It’d be ready when it was ready.

So it feels great have it in front of me, finally. For those unfamiliar with the band, the first record Things We Said In Bedrooms was recorded by Tim Metcalfe in his home studio and released in March 2009 on the then fledgling Philophobia Music. Not long after Harry Rhodes joined the ‘band’ and work on a follow up began.

In various previews Tim had hinted that the soundscaping of that first record would be replaced with a combination of pop songs and monolithic bursts of noise. So the initial surprise with Midnight… is that it isn’t the radical departure expected, at least immediately.

Songs leading gently into one another creating a sense of a consistent narrative is the most obvious comparison. But the vocals in particular are way more upfront that the previous record and vary greater in style than the heartbroken mumble of album one, with harmonies and backing vocals / counter melodies from Harry. Though the mood across the record isn’t a monumental shift, this more direct approach will certainly allow the record to reach more people. I don’t want to say it is more accessible because that suggest it was designed that way. It is more a natural progression from the bedroom based nature of the first record – both in its sounds and themes – to something more willing to make a connection to the world outside the window.

The classic St Gregory Orange sound of the clicking beats and whirls of sound are still present but they are joined by classic pop stings of artificial string sections, wall of sound reverb and acoustic guitars. The latter is the most important in giving the record a different feel. It hints at the simplicity at the core of these songs and how they have been slowly thought out and pondered over across a number of years. There is more substance at the core of what is going on. Soundscaping is wonderful but it can also be lazy. These gentle suggestions / reminders of the central songwriting at work are a subtle connection to the more human nature of the record and are also responsible for some uncharacteristically upbeat moments.

Salem AM is the most immediate track on the record and a good example of this direct and confident approach. It has an unashamed gleam to it that helps add pathos (a much more subtle form of misery, right?) to the complex lyrical considerations. These poppier moments are slotted throughout the record, amongst barer moments like Obituaries, Northeastern which replicates a disturbed mornings’ gloaming with a hallucinogenic, swirling backing. Aidan Moffat esqe spoken word tells a tale full of vivid details and Cocker-like observations.

Blotter (Swallowing Keys) shows another side to St Gregory Orange’s sound; bigger computerised beats mixed in with squiggly, unsettling Kid A effects and glitchy asides whilst the tail end of the album sees a sad settling, a resigned sigh settle over the album which allows for some of the most beautiful and reserved moments on the album, seen in by Sorry Is Easy’s much simpler approach. It’s a pleasing break from the large production elsewhere, involving a gentle, drifting piano and keyboard over the sound of people outside with the birds.

Pleasingly, Midnight… sidesteps the trend for short, thirty minute records and confidently spreads its wings across almost an hour of exploration. It doesn’t overstay its welcome but it does demand care and patience. Attention to detail is the key here and is the justification for the length of time it took to create. Sonically and lyrically, details are hidden and revealed after many listens, but the widescreen production and pop elements means that it is never a chore to endure.

Truth is, I’ve not given it the time is deserves yet, and I’ve been listening for four weeks. I’ve not even had time to discuss the lyrically contributions. They’d probably fill a book if written out and are rather wonderful, taking pleasure or finding sadness in the multiple wonders you can experience in life, much like David’s Last Summer by Pulp. In that sense it is a rather detailed but complicated document, tied with riddles, of existing and growing up / old in the universe right now.

And that’s the thing for me. Much of the record deals with friendships and groups of friends finding themselves with little left in common. It happens to us all as we grow but it isn’t usually down to some big event. It is the tiny decisions we make each day. Like a sprawling decision tree of everything we’ve ever done over our lives laid before us, those small, seemingly inconsequential decisions slowly move us away from people we thought we had so much in common with. St Gregory Orange, with their long gestation period on this record, have done the same thing. Every ache over the construction of a beat, the rhythm of a line or the structure of a song has moved them further and further from their peers. The final product justifies each of their decisions: no one else in the world could have made this record.

If Midnight… was released by an established artist it would be fawned upon and picked apart and declared a work of great accomplishment. It’s almost like it is too good, too soon. Much like this review, itself a long time coming, it is long and not always straight to the point. But after all these years I feel they deserve at least something quotable, rather than my lengthy attempts to solve the puzzle they have laid before me, so well done St Gregory Orange, and here you go: “A work of wonder and endlessly collapsing beauty from one of the country’s most unique and engaging bands”

Dean Freeman