Monthly Archive: February 2011

Naked & Famous

for Fused Magazine with fab photographer Katja Orgin and Birmingham Live!

Tonight it’s to the dinky O2 Academy 3 to see up-and-coming Kiwi indie band The Naked and Famous at the dinky price of £7 a ticket. Expectation surrounds TN&F – in December they made the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll of the top fifteen bands to look out for. And although it’s not rammed in here, the gig is sold out to an audience predominantly made up of students and indie fans. An enthusiastic PR girl, keen to sign up every member of the audience to email alerts, tells me entrance numbers are 230 to the 250 capacity.

Support is by Wolf Gang. A quick net search pulls up a heavy metal Filipino rock band – er… this is clearly the wrong band! This particular Wolf Gang comprises of Max McElligot plus band, clearly heavily influenced by David Byrne / Bowie crossed with Crowded House. Sounds like? Think Talking Heads Pschyo-Killer era.  With flick in hair and earring to boot, he dances in typical 80s style – scarily like a cross between Limahl and Howard Jones…

Then a break and at 9.15pm on come The Naked and Famous - comprising of Thom Powers, Alisa Xayalith, Aaron Short, David Beadle and Jesse Wood. Formed in various Auckland bedrooms, their start-up approach was true indie DIY style, which has fortunately been preserved in their sound. Their debut single ‘Young Blood’ went straight in at No 1 in the New Zealand chart – the first Kiwi artists to do so since the 90s.

‘Punching a Dream’ – the second track in – is light and fluffy with high infectious tune, bass beat accompanied by Alisa’s ethereal vocals. Other songs are far more traditional indie with rhythms that roll on and on and are taken from their debut album ‘Passive Me, Aggressive You’ (to be released in the UK on 14th March 2011). You can hear smatterings of inspiration from Joy Divison to The Jesus and Marychain, with Alisa sounding not too dissimilar to Cocteau Twin Liz Frazer.

TN&F are not a talking band. In true indie manner, they get on and do their stuff, and when they do speak they speak very quickly! “Really appreciate you guys coming along – we know some of you have school tomorrow – thank you for coming.”

‘Young Blood’ at the end of the set, is back again to the commercial side of what they do – poppy and uplifting, psychedelically memorizing and addictive, complimented with vocal harmonies. It’s pretty and refreshing.

Main set done, they return for one encore, with distorted guitar, thumping indie bass, slightly splattered with indie angst, Alisa banging away on a tambourine.  Years ago, we’d have been ‘wrecking’ to this lot (obscure indie dance for those who either can’t remember or who are too young to have been there) – now the audience is more refined, but still wholly appreciative.

Tonight’s 50 minute snippet of TN&F was dinky. Just like the venue. But they have a subtle epic and big indie sound and unlike the support act, TN&F are not a throwback in time. There is something refreshing to their sound, while they clearly reside in a specific genre, you can’t pigeon-hole them into ripping off the past. And their music is eclectic enough – not doubt you will start to hear them on TV ads and as musical interludes on TV programs.

I really like them. Like a refreshing glass of cold homemade lemonade on a hot summer’s day – their music is contagious and upcoming album will be well worth a listen. If you get a chance – go see what they’re about. I think you’ll like them too.

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Listening:

‘Youngblood’ is due for release in the UK on March 7th 2011.

Debut album Passive Me, Aggressive You from the 15th March 2011

 

Tinie Tempah + Katy B + GFrsh @ 02 Academy, 24th February 2011

for Fused Magazine with fab photographer Katja Orgin .

Tonight it’s down to the 02 Academy for The Man of the Moment – breakthrough multi-award winning artist Tinie Tempah. The big break came after a stunning performance at the Wireless Festival in 2009, with his debut single ‘Pass-Out’ UK Number 1 for two consecutive weeks and his debut album ‘Disc-Overy’ straight in at Number 1 in October 2010. He then landed umpteen awards including MOBOs, Urban Music Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards before the recent double at The 2011 Brits for best Breakthrough and Best Single. So is he worth all the hype?

Tonight’s audience is made up of 14-21 year olds, plus the odd group of older lads plus the odd mom, clearly playing chaperone to the littler people. As we arrive there a good buzz in the Academy and we catch the last 5 minutes of GFrsh’s 15 minute set. The crowd is waving along, to a heyho! rhythmn. GFrsh’s completed his stint with a pic from his smartphone, posted on his twitter feed @gfrsh to “say how good you are.”

Between acts, DJ Charlsey spins some tracks before the next 30 minute set from rising starlet Katy B. She arrives on stage to “Make some noise!” and a large scream from the audience. Unfortunately Katy B is somewhat uncomfortable on stage, a bit like a potential XFactor contestant. She has an okay voice, but with limited stage craft and even less presence, the crowd get bored and start talking, until they wake up as she sings her hit, “Lights On”. She’s at the HMV Institute on the 10th May. I would only bother if you really like her, there’s far better acts that are currently doing what she’s doing, and she could learn a thing or two from everyone else on stage tonight.

Another DJ Charlsey interlude and then it’s onto the man of the moment.  At 9.40 pm Patrick Chukwuemeka Okogwu Jr, AKA Tinie Tempah, takes the stage to a chanting rhythm. With a full live band including supporting rapper, all dressed in white hoodies, the audience responds with a rapturous scream.  The first two tracks he prowls along the raised stage in front of the screen at the back of the set, hood up – before announcing himself at the front of the stage, hood down, shades on, to sing ‘Wonderwoman’ (the soon to be released single with Ellie Goulding).

Tinie Tempah has got his stage-craft down to a fine art – he is hugely impressive live, able to fully engage with the audience, with a mesmerizing stage presence few possess. He speaks for a huge amount of time, I’ve seen spoken-word gigs with less words. “Thanks for coming out, this gig sold out in two days, thank you to you all.” He tells us his new song ‘Snap’ is about taking photos not video, but capturing that moment in time. “Get out all your iPhones, Blackberry’s and smart phones, I have a treat for you at the end of the song”.  The treat? He comes to the front of the stage and poses for photos, in the centre, then at one side then the other. He is clearly enjoying what he’s doing and clearly wants to give a huge amount back to those that have given him the success.

Then DJ Charlsey is back on stage. There’s a play off of mixes between the band and the DJ, with Tinie Tempah rapping over the tracks – the audience asked to make the loudest noise to choose between them. Both are tight – “Can’t decide – lets collaborate and do something crazy!” And off we go, audience clapping along with backing music that any rave would love.

“I’m feeling very emotional…” He then talks of going to the Brits in previous years, of meeting really big names, of how he met Ellie Goulding and supported Rihanna on tour, and of how emotional he felt when he recently took the two Brits at the 2011 Awards. “Thank you – each and everyone of you.”

A 15 year old girl is selected from the audience to come on stage, to do a mini recreation of the Brits ceremony. It’s her birthday, and he “presents” her with his two Brits and she stands there, made up, a Vivienne Westwood designed Brit in each hand. He talks to her and hugs her in between singing. He’s buzzing:“ I would bring everyone on stage!”

There’s a real vibe in the crowd, a full on party atmosphere. “Birmingham is one of my favorite gigs ever” as he dedicated his Brits to Birmingham. Free T-shirts, rubbed over all the band members are offered up to the audience – “Goes to the side who makes the most noise”. Then the last song of the main set, “Written In The Stars”, big and ballsy, with lead guitar in support.

Then onto two encores – the gig completed with the hit “Pass-Out” – pretty much EVERYONE is boogying on down….

Tickets for tonight’s gig, I believe, were £16.50. Checking out some online resellers – you could have added a £100 to face value.  This tour is totally sold out. And you would have happily paid double for what you got tonight.

Now I have to say, Urban Hip-Hop is not my genre. I’ve come along tonight to see what all the fuss is about. I’ve been to hundreds of gigs, so I kinda know when a gig is rubbish, mediocre or great. And tonight you were lucky.  This is one of those gigs, where you will be able to say I was there.  Because the next time you see him will be on stadia tours and headlining festivals. Because what we see in Tinie Tempah is history in the making. There is no doubt he will be a meteoric superstar.  Watch out Puffy Daddy/P-Diddy/ Diddy whatever your name is today. Watchout JayZee. There’s a new man in town. Tinie Tempah. From Plumstead. South London.

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Listening: 

Tinie Tempah – Disco-very (2010)

Dudley Zoo 2011 edition

Well we went for a day trip out to the Zoo. Dudley Zoo.

Things have changed a lot over the years. Dudley Zoological Gardens opened in 1937. At the time it was a place to go and look at creatures you’d only see in books or in moving pictures.

I remember going when I was little. I sat on the back of a Giant Galapagos Tortoise and had a ride. I remember the Killer Whale. I remember the elephants. I remember looking into the meticulously aesthetically designed concrete pits at Polar Bears. I remember eating a picnic in the castle….

Things were different then. You looked at these animals. The environment the animals were kept in wasn’t a real concern.

Then came Zoo Check and real concerns over animal welfare. Many zoos, including Dudley, were wholly criticized for keeping animals in conditions which were way beyond fit for purpose. And taking into consideration the newly re-focused animal-in-captivity welfare concerns –  they were right.

Giant Tortoises (and rides) went. Keeping Killer Whales in pools that were so small they couldn’t move went (the Orca died in ’74 before it could be relocated). Keeping Polar Bears in concrete bowls where they paced all day just wasn’t on. From being intrigued about these bizarre animals from overseas that we wouldn’t see in real life without traveling; we all started to care that they were kept in the best conditions possible. Now that wasn’t to say keepers of their day weren’t doing their job, or caring about the animals in the care. Times they’d changed. Visitors expectations changed.

Dudley was a zoo that struggled it’s way through all of this. And to compound the issues of modernization – the Art Deco concrete enclosures, designed by Berthold Lubetkin’s Tecton Group,  were Grade II listed. So they couldn’t be taken down. They couldn’t be changed.

The larger animals began to disappear over time. And what do you do with an old Polar Bear that probably wouldn’t survive if moved, than you can’t build a new environment for, and that another Zoo probably wouldn’t take. Have it destroyed? Or look after it the best you can til it dies.

And the Zoo with lack of visitors and lack of funds began to literally fall into dereliction.

But over the past few years they’ve began to find a path. New structures, where possible have appeared, with environments that are substantially better than the old.  Some have been modernized as much as possible. Animals kept as mentally stimulated as possible to encourage natural behavior.

Dudley Zoo 2011 edition, now concentrates on several areas:

  • Conservation. Several animals including Giraffe, Red Panda and Asiatic Lion are part of bigger breeding programs, where species are so endangered that captive breeding programs are an option to keep the species alive.
  • Transfer zone. They are effectively a ‘holding’ zone in the transfer of animals from one location to another (while waiting for their new accommodation to be ready).
  • Taking in unwanted pets – from snakes to tarantulas, injured birds to birds of prey…
  • History. With a castle which goes from the 12th century through to Tudor times it utilizes it’s historic values through workshops of the times and ghost walks.
  • Education. Big time engagement – on a visit expect 15 or more mini experiences – whether hands on, feeding times, birds of prey flying times, ghost and historic stories. Or, for example,  you can be a Zoo Keeper for a Day.
  • Animal Sponsorship. Sponsor a penguin… Arkwright. Do you know which one he is?
  • Venue hire. You can have your wedding reception there.

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There are one or two animals still from times past. A Brown Bear, now thirty odd, too old to move, and near her end of life, is looked after as well as possible, in one of the old enclosures. Her coat is shiny. Physically the old lady looks well.

There’s a Lemur Walk - where you can walk through a large area which contains different breeds of Lemur – where you walk into their world, not a cage. Large area for Asiatic Lions as part of a conservation program (there’s only 300 left in the wild). And further (if minimal work) is undergoing.

In 2009 Dudley Zoological Gardens Charity operated on about £2.5m. In today’s money that’s nothing. And it severely could do with infrastructure investment to do something with the derelict, but listed structures. But it’s clean and well kept, the animals are well looked after and you cannot fault the keepers and workers on their commitment to the animals.

There are many animals at risk of dying out in our lifetime. And it is a pre-requisite about zoos these days to be primarily concerned with conservation. And there is probably still a need to care for those animals too old to move, or who are unwanted, or born in captivity couldn’t be put back out into their own environment.

Dudley Zoo does a lot of great stuff. But clearly runs on limited money, limited resources and limited staff.  Does it know what its long term direction should be?  I’m also not sure that it has a real structured marketing plan either. It’s almost that like many animals, Dudley Zoo is about day-to day-survival.

I’d like to see Dudley Zoo expand on it’s education. Do more and more conservation work to do with rare breeds. Have a strategy. Utilize it’s phenomenal history far more.

It is a really sweet day out, rather than a great day out. You will enjoy it. But in order to survive, just like some of the animals it cares for, it needs your help. The choice is yours. Support it by visiting. If you keep away –  like the DoDo –  it’ll die out.

 

Vinyl. Remember that?

recordWe brought in our millions, that black circle of etched embedded music. A vinyl album. Or EP. Or a single. We’d go to one of them, now nearly defunct, Record Shops, and look through rows and rows of Bands to find what we were looking for, alongside other doing the same thing.

We’d look beyond the norm – we’d for gatefold, pop-out packaging, rare limited editions, 12”  vinyl mega remixes of our favorite songs, colored vinyl, picture vinyl. We would buy a product. We would get it home, and clean off the dust, and listen to it crackling on the deck.

We would immerse ourselves in the content, be it lyric sheets, or the artwork of the cover. And cover artwork was a form in it’s own right. Be it Roger Dean and covers for Yes, Hypnosis and Pink Floyd, classic covers of Bat Out Of Hell, Iron Maiden or Guns ‘n’ Roses. Or classic iconic images like Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust”.  In its own way, buying an actual record was an experience, total engagement of the band through a real tangible product. It gave you a talking point. And much, much more.

And if you scratched the vinyl, you’d wipe it in soapy washing up liquid. Kinda fixed the problem. And if you stored it on it’s side, it could warp. So you’d stick a 2p coin on the label bit when playing to weight it down so the needle wouldn’t jump.

Tape cassettes.The poor man’s version of vinyl. Horrible things. They would warp out of control, so you’d end up with some drunken version of your favorite song. If the tape broke you could fix it together cleverly with some celloptape. And you could record over them. Time and time again. Till they warped that little bit too much. More drunken singing.  But they were a huge pain. Fast forwarding or rewinding in an attempt to find the right song on the tape.

And the CD. It took some time to make this work. Initially marketed as “You can eat your lunch of them and they’d still be perfect.” Erm. Not. A scratched CD jumps. As we all know.

Other attempts. Remember the mini -disc?

We’ve all used a range of different media to play our music. Now we don’t buy a physical product. We buy some code, and import it onto our computer, iPhone or MP3 player and listen that way. It’s is clean, no scratches, no jumping, no realism. Perfectly sanitized.

We download. Or not as the case may be – we listen online, through Spotify, through YouTube, streamed through our TV services or do what we all used to do – switch on the Radio. Through a Radio. Or online. Or via our TV, phone or which ever gadget is to hand.

Progress is great. I’m a user of all those modern ways of listening to music. But I can’t deny –  I miss vinyl. For so many reasons. Once purchased it was mine. All mine. For all it’s rubbish imperfections.

All You Need is Love

heartsBad customer care is one thing that can really annoy me. I’m sure all of us have come across it – and most of the time there is no need.

It switches people off, it can be, for the customer incredibly frustrating. And don’t you just love those people that speak from a script – whether you have a problem, or whether they are selling you something. All you want to do is have an intelligent conversation and have an answer or solution to your question. And it is a two way street.

Good customer care means people will be loyal. Being polite and helpful makes a difference. You will be remembered. People will tell their friends and family and in general chat how helpful you have been. Word of mouth recommendations can be so important to any business.

I’ve always had a rule when dealing with customers or clients. Don’t say no. Offer advice and direction. Even if you can’t provide a particular service – just being helpful and communicative can make all the difference, and at times make someone’s day when they are are having a bad one.

And even if you are complaining – a two way discussion in a fair and polite manner, no matter how annoyed you are, can make all the difference. A corporate complaints department will get grief all the time. Being nice about your grievances can make all the difference. And say thank you. Just two little words.

Myself and a group of people have been in conversation with a major communications firm for some time. If you communicate on a two way level there can be benefits for both sides, improving the firm’s service, engaging with making improvements and gaining benefits for helping them. All good stuff.

You can moan, shout and stamp your feet. But the best way of getting things done is to talk. Communicate.

All you need is love. Da da da da daaaaa……

Imelda May @ HMV Institute 8th February 2011

Review for Birmingham Live!

Pretty busy here at the HMV Institute as we wait for the new emerging talent of Imelda May to appear on stage. Still lovin’ the HMV Institute as a venue – you can clearly see the stage wherever you stand.

Imelda May is deemed to be the “next big thing” even though her career started years ago in the Dublin Club circuit where she fell in love with rockabilly and blues and with the music of Elvis, Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent. And this isn’t her first time performing in Birmingham, she is a regular with the The World Famous Palookaville! Burlesque Orchestra at every Candy Box show since it started in 2006.

This Irish lass has an unmistakable cool but quirky 50s look, hair slicked back into a pony-tail, supported by a full rock-a-biddy band complete with bass cello. The first song is reminiscent of Magic Bus – a full on return to the fifties, to applause from the crowd.

She’s chatty – happy to talk to the audience between songs – her days on the club circuit giving her the skills to work with the audience. “Great to be back in Birmingham –  wow lots of photographers down there, you get me shoes?”

“Johnny Got a Boom Boom” with the bass cello is New Orleans southern blues, whilst ”Go Tell the Devil” is a real see-saw of a song. The song she is probably best known for, “Inside Out”, was given the full on New Orleans blues treatment. Imelda and her band are tight and jam really well. Jools Holland rates Imelda May massively and believes she has it “in spades”. He insisted she appeared on “Later…” You can see why.

Imelda May is a real time-shift, taking you back right to the fifties musical hey-day. Standing here in the Institute, which has the over-riding feel of an old fashioned music hall, I half expected the crowd to part and American GI’s to start jiving, rock-a-biddies to jitterbug and to see The Fonz leaning up against the bar. “Aaay…”.

She would have been a big star at that time and you can see why. The audience, give her rapturous applause between songs, but were increasingly talking through the set, so when she spoke it became difficult to hear her.  I can’t really say that Imelda May is really my cup of tea. Fifties skiffle and blues is a little too far out of my musical taste – but in saying that, what she does, she does incredibly well and is indeed a massive talent.

I hope she sticks by her roots and continues to bring a unique reminder of a long ago musical hey-day, without being modernized and commercialized to meet the masses.  She’s truly unique. She doesn’t sound like anyone else. Nor does she look like anyone else. So if you fancy popping back in time for an afternoon tea or a milkshake in Arnold’s – then drop in. Happy Days.

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Listening: 

Mayhem (2010)

Love Tattoo (2008)

No Turning Back (2005)

 

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