Monthly Archive: February 2014

Heaven 17 @ Town Hall, Birmingham UK, Friday 14 February 2014

So on this Valentine’s eve, storms are plummeting the UK but in Brum the weather isn’t too bad, although traffic out of town doesn’t look the best. But that’s okay cos we’ve been tempted –  we’re in town and we all be snug and cosy in Birmingham’s Town Hall for an evening of romance, Heaven 17 style.

Indeed Heaven 17 have a back story. Inspired by the godfathers of electronica Kraftwerk, two members of the Human League, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh walked away and formed a band / production company B.E.F. (British Electric Foundation). Initially recording music under the guise of B.E.F., they subsequently recruited photographer Glenn Gregory on vocals and eventually became Heaven 17. Now it is just Gregory and Ware, accompanied by two lasses on vocals and Berenice on supporting keyboards. And no support tonight and we’re told they’ll be promptly on at 8pm and off after an hour and 10. Early night for us then. It’s about half full in the beautiful Town Hall, if it be a tad austere. So it’ll be interesting, to see if Heaven 17 can deliver in such a venue, especially that all that is on on stage, against the black- clothed backdrop, are two keyboards and four mike stands.

Cheers from the crowd as Ware, then Gregory in dapper suit, takes to the stage. First up League song ‘Circus of Death’. This is Heaven 17’s first gig of 2014 (although Ware quips that Gregory still thinks  it’s 1981 or earlier). The beat delivers us next ‘known’ track (given that when it was originally released, at a time when most kids listened to Radio 1, DJ Mike Read effectively banned it due to its left wing lyrics.) ‘Fascist Groove Thang’ comes across great live; Gregory’s voice is still strong, deep and sultry. There is no ‘set’, no exotic lighting or effects –  just these guys performing. They are indeed be great live (I’ve seen them before) but not sure this is the best venue for them especially given as we’re seated.  But even up here in the dizzying heights of the Circle, people are on their feet and dancing as we’re into ‘Crushed by the Wheels of Industry.’

Gregory quips that he was learning lyrics on the way here, as they deliver ‘Play to Win.’ Most the crowd are on their feet now and the atmosphere is indeed beginning to permeate through the venue. “Don’t sit down again….” Gregory orders the crowd in a friendly way, as they deliver us ‘Geisha Boys and Temple Girls’. And now another early League track, ‘Black Hit of Space’, as Ware gets to play with his theremin (as he moves his hand between the electronic antennas we get a spooky Dr Who-like effect).

We’re promised they’re writing a new album  which may be with us by the end of the year (but maybe not it’s been a fair few years since the last new release). The band explain that its like a creative love fest, without the sex. “It’s like being married then..” shouts an audience member.

‘Let’s All Make A Bomb’ is followed by the sultry and smoozy ‘Come With Me’; a great rendition that goes down well. Happy Valentines indeed Birmingham.  Next track, we feel like we are waiting for aliens to land, and electronica (plus the theremin) gets noticeably spooky, bizarrely this is ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’; Gregory’s vocals are incredibly powerful against the electronic backdrop. He’s accompanied by Ware (who’s vocal may not quite match the power of his colleague). “He’s my Valentine…”  – Gregory points to Ware and we all laugh.

And next up a track that ‘kills’ Gregory every time he performs it live ‘We Live So Fast’, which indeed cranks up the pace  faster and faster… ‘I’m Your Money’ accompanied by a joke that it was written last week, as they’re living in the present and not thirty years ago.

Bowie’s ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ – Gregory’s powerful vocals cover one of the legend’s tracks, however it lacks the powerful bluesy guitar of the original. Interpreted pretty true to the original,  it would have been nice to see the guys play around B.E.F. style  Then Ware’s and Gregory’s favourite Heaven 17 song ‘Let Me Go’, before the 12 inch mega house-influenced remix, with a bit of ‘Love to Love You Baby’,  that is their classic hit ‘Temptation.’ It very nearly blows the roof off.

Quick break and they’re back, “Let’s keep put in the party mood…” as Heaven 17 deliver us ‘Penthouse and Pavement’. Next song dedicated to the local club night where they’ve PA’d –  ‘Only After Dark.’ Clap. Clap Clap. Clap. Listen to the voice of Buddha, we are indeed as we’re into the League’s ‘Being Boiled.’

The set thankfully was longer than anticipated – Heaven 17 gave us 1 hour and 35 of their time. I’m not sure this is the best venue for them –  they are more suited to a more intimate, club type venue where we can all get down and party. And indeed they gave us some stand out tracks tonight ‘Come With Me’, ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’ and ‘Temptation’ very possibly the stand out. Bit more of a mixed set than I’ve seen before but still a good punt. They will be out over the summer in the 80s ‘Rewind’ festivals and, if they get their act together, I would suspect will be back with their new album in tow. Be tempted.

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Setlist
Circus of Death
We Don’t Need This (Fascist Groove Thang)
Crushed by the Wheels of Industry
Play to Win
Geisha Boys and Temple Girls
Dive
Black Hit of Space
Let’s All Make A Bomb
Come Love With Me
You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling
We Live So Fast
I’m Your Money
Boys Keep Swinging
Let Me Go
Temptation

Encore:
Penthouse and Pavement
Only After Dark
Being Boiled

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Listening:
Heaven 17 – The Luxury Gap (1983)
BEF  – ‘Music For Stowaways’ and ‘Music Of Quality And Distinction Vol.1’

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Review for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken Harrison.

Kraftwerk Uncovered – Live @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, UK, Saturday February 8th February 2014

So a limited crowd tonight, a couple of hundred snugly in the Town Hall avoiding winds and horizontal rain to see a Kraftwerk extravaganza: Kraftwerk Uncovered – Live. This is another cultural event that the Birmingham’s Town Hall / Symphony Hall (THSH) group should be justifiably proud in presenting, celebrating creativity, and exactly because it is not a safe option – it certainly couldn’t be classed as mainstream.

Let’s be clear about this – this is something completely different – we’re here for an experience – similar to the Joy Division Reworked, that THSH put on last year. Contemporary orchestra Icebreaker are here tonight with their own unique take on the music that was created by the legends of electronica – Kraftwerk. Created by German sound-scape artist and composer J. Peter Schwalm, this intentionally deconstructs Kraftwerk’s music and features award-winning visual artists Sophie Clements’ and Toby Cornish’s creative cinematic works, filmed in the Ruhr, the region in Germany from which Kraftwerk started off life.

So it will be interesting to see how the inspired performance delivers.  So in jeans and T’s the orchestra take to the stage. Icebreaker are indeed different – not your usual take on an orchestra – instruments include panpipes, accordion, drumkits, guitars in the mix with your traditional orchestral and percussion instruments – plus the additional of two electronic keyboards.  The first half hour set is not Kraftwerk, but features Erik Bunger’s Variation on a Theme (featuring snippets of KC & the Sunshine Band), Michael Nyman’s Think Slow, Act Fast and three track montage from Moss Side Story original written by Barry Adamson (of Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame). It is a unique way of looking at things, electronica done by live instruments and people – and it does take some getting used to. It is indeed the alternative to the alternative. There isn’t any visuals here – just the orchestra on stage – so it’s very much close your eyes and take in the music.

Barry Adamson’s reworking includes tracks ‘Chocolate Milkshake’ and ‘Under Wraps’ – and was apparently written for a fictitious film, written about the seedier side of life and drug culture in Moss Side, Manchester.  The music has a bluesy feel – I’m not sure I’m feeling in Moss Side – more like 60s / 70s New York or London and I’m waiting for Michael Caine to make an appearance. First set over and I’m pondering about what this is all about.

Half hour break and we’re into set number 2 – Kraftwerk. The origin’s of this piece of work goes back to 2009, after Icebreaker took on Brian Eno’s Apollo for  London’s Science Museum.  So the music starts up and the mono visuals are played on screen as we go into

‘Heimcomputer ‘(from Computer World 1981). It is a bizarre take as we get Kraftwerk deconstructed with real instruments especially as confusingly there electronic music too.

‘Megaherz/mitternacht’ (from Kraftwerk 1970 / Autobahn 1974) the visuals take us to arthouse, grainy, mono and sepia toned footage of the exterior of houses, a time warp  -they seem 70s and architecturally simple. Next performance, ‘multitanz’ is inspired by the track Tanzmusik (from Ralf & Florian 1973). Sans footage this time, musically Icebreaker are very good.

And now accompanied by visuals of triangles, squares and circles, ‘Modul 6’ (inspired by the track Radio-Activity from Radio-Activity 1975) factories spewing smoke in sepia tones. With German words its almost a modern Metropolis on screen – metal structures, concrete structures and symmetrical flats.

‘Morgenspaziergang’ (from Autobahn 1974) becomes the polar-opposite we have canals and water and greenery – all in mono footage; accompanied by lilting flutes and pan pipes, clarinet accompanies by violins. Mellow and quote beautiful.

And then to ‘Spiegelsaal’ (from Trans-Europe Express 1977)  – as floating mono squares zooms across the screens. And windows. This track too is beautifully delivered – the pan pipes replacing that dum dum dum keyboard sound.  Images show communist inspired  Germany – images are 70s-like – that ‘iconic’ feel run down, functional, Bauhaus created living.

And now the finale – ‘Autobahn’ – images of looking down at the central white lines and tarmac of the road, an autobahn indeed. And a 60s garage. And as the drumbeat kicks in for a crescendo…and we’re going along the road. And now were on the motorway, and as the track rises – the autobahn in full flow.

Well tonight was a different experience. I remain a tad confused and I’m not sure just who this was delivered for in terms of audience. However, the performance by Icebreaker was great and exceptionally well delivered. Kraftwerk took a leftfield approach, sampling sounds, using electronica to develop sounds in their own unique way. It was the polar opposite of what was delivered tonight – so in a twist, their replacement for live instruments is now being delivered by –  live instruments. For me I’m not sure if it worked, unlike the Joy Division Reworked which was indeed leftfield of leftfield, I guess I was slightly disappointed that Icebreaker didn’t go further – it seemed a little safe, given that Kraftwerk have always been, and continue to, push artistic and creative boundaries.

Tonight’s performance has been supported by Arts Council England, Science Museum London, Goeth Institut, Edge Hill University and Third Earl Music.

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Review for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken Harrison.