Tag Archive: Bilston

Hugh Cornwell + Hazel O’Connor @ The Robin 2, Bilston, West Midlands, 25 November 2014

Tonight, Gig Junkies friends, we are in Bilston, in the Black Country and the delectable little venue that is the Robin 2 to see two blasts from the past – two icons of punk / new wave on a double headlining set - Hazel O’Connor and Hugh Cornwell.

First up, and so a potted bit of history, is Hazel O’Connor. Ms O’Connor is best know for ‘Breaking Glass.’ ‘Breaking Glass’ was a 1980 British film featuring O’Connor, Phil Daniels and Jonathan Price  but it was probably most notable for O’Connor’s debut album and soundtrack to the film, which went platinum and made #5 in the UK Charts with a string of classic hits. This was O’Connor and her most commercially successful. She has continued to record, issuing a plethora of albums since and to coincide with her 2014 album ‘Her She Comes’ she here tonight, with the two legendary performers who feature on the album – saxophonist Clare Hirst (Bellestars, Communards, David Bowie) and Sarah Fisher (Eurythmics) on keyboards.

And indeed her set features an eclectic mix of much of ‘Breaking Glass’ and some new stuff. This trio of women perform well together, O’Connor’s voice remains as powerful, and the interpretation of the old by the trio goes down well as the first track from that album is delivered – ‘If Only.’ “We are three women…” announces O’Connor. “Unless one of us is a transvestite.”

‘Don’t Call Me Darling’ is off the new album – and includes some French lyrics – a protest against sexism in the music industry. She’s definitely NOT your baby.  Back to ‘Breaking Glass’ we have the track inspired by the story of Blair Peach, who died as a result of injuries received in a fall at an anti-racism demonstration in Southall in 1979 – ‘Who Calls the Tune.’

O’Connor is a local lass, originally from Coventry (though she now lives in Ireland).  Chatty and engaging, she tells us she doesn’t do planes – she does boats. Likes tea (which she can drink in peace on said boat) and bags (which will be in her car on said boat and which she won’t loose!). The next song is written for her mother, who was in a hospice. During this difficult time, and to cheer her mom up, there had been a blizzard, so she built a snowman to make her smile and named him ‘Harry.’ This song is dedicated to her mom – ‘I Give You My Sunshine.’

‘Blackman’ from THAT album, is a jazzier version, and somewhat faster; as is ‘Shape of Things to Come.’  And then the cup of tea – it must be THAT track. The last dance in the ballroom as they say. ‘Will You?’ and we sing, and Hirst gives the classic sax tune. Big cheer and thank you.

Encore gives us her rendition of Snow Patrol’s ‘Chasing Cars’ – a laid back version and then the ‘Eighth Day.’ Forever and ever amen, amen, amen indeed.  Great response from the 500 or so punters here tonight. And to complete a sing a-long – with the Bilston Robin 2 Choir (that’s us lot then) – ‘Hey ho I’m Still Breathing.’

And so to a quick break before set number 2. Hugh Cornwell. Cornwell was the original lead singer of iconic The Stranglers and the vocalist and guitarist on some of their classic hits. With them for 16 years, he was on 10 albums and 21 top 40 singing’s before leaving the band in 1990. His latest outing ‘Totem and Taboo’ was released in 2013 to rave reviews and he’ll be playing Strangler’s hits and songs from this recent album for us tonight.

So him and his drummer and female bass player take to the stage and, without saying anything to the crowd, spend 5 minutes tuning, as the crowd wait expectantly before the title track from his latest album ‘Totem & Taboo.’ Then Stranglers track ‘Skin Deep’  and then another from ‘Totem’, the songs intermixed. Cornwell is not happy with the lighting, northe sound, and it takes a few tracks before he settles in and is more comfortable and starts chatting.

‘Duchess’ is given in true Cornwell style, before an older track – requested – ‘Hooverdam’. The crowd chant – “Hughie, Hughie, Hughie” the group of former punks keen to engage with their idol.

For classic ‘Strange Little Girl’ finally we get Cornwell – the voice – the track – he still has those classic vocals. ‘God is a Woman’, again from ‘Totem’ – “….and now we’ve established that – let’s go down to the beach…” – ‘Peaches’ style, which receives the biggest cheer of the night so far. Whilst the ‘Totem’ tracks are delivered well – it is invariably those Strangler’s tracks the punters want to here – ‘Get a Grip (On Yourself)’  from 1977’s ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ (probabaly better known as ‘The Stranglers IV)’get’s those punks pogoing -Cornwell’s version tonight  is raw and stripped back.

Encore starts with a bass rhythm as we go into ‘Totem’ – ‘In the Dead of the Night’ which rambles and stomps – you can hear the core origination from The Stranglers sound. And back to his former band – with ‘Nice n Sleazy’ (which it is), ‘Tank’ and ‘No More Heroes.’ Cornwell’s sound is rawer and punkier – it takes some getting used to as his renditions of these classics exclude the keyboards, which you end up playing as a backing track i your mind.

And another Encore – gives us ‘Bad Vibrations’ and then O’Connor and her females buddies are back as she gives us her take on ‘Hanging Around.’

Tonight’s show was a blast from the past – while there are new tracks there invariably the punters are there to see the classics. O’Connor gave us a good set – the old and the new – but the stand out was probably always likely to be ‘Will You?” Cornwell was punkier and rawer. He’s clearly still angry and snarly. It was great to hear his vocals and at times they really did take you to that place  especially with ‘Strange Little Girl’. It’s a difficult challenge when his former band are out and about and delivering every year – better and better and you have to park aside The Stranglers version 2014 from Hugh Cornwell version 2014, and take’s Cornwell’s version of those tracks in the way he delivers them.

For the fans there tonight – a thoroughly enjoyable evening with their punk new wave idols. Punk aint dead –  this variety of new wave punk is still very much alive and kicking. And is sure as hell isn’t  stuck in Daily Mail Land…

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Hugh Cornwell Setlist:
Totem & Taboo
Skin Deep
Stuck in Daily Mail Land
DagDave
I Want One of Those
Duchess
Hooverdam
Strange Little Girl
God is a Woman
Peaches
Gods Guns and Gays
Get a Grip on Yourself
A Street Called Carroll
Straighten Out

Encore I
In the Dead of the Night
Nice n Sleazy
Tank
No More Heroes

Encore II
Bad Vibrations
Hanging Around

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Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison. Review for Gig Junkies

New Model Army + Bomb Whateva¿ @ Robin 2, Bilston, 17 November 2013

And so to the back-end of the Black Country. Hidden beyond the Black Country Route, in an inner-city town, lies the Robin 2. It is indeed in the back end of beyond, near the end of the world. But it has everything, really friendly welcome, great cozy venue, cheap refreshments and food and, tonight it has the powerful, raw and legendary New Model Army. 

As we mingle and the room gets warm support Bomb Whateva¿ take to the stage. They’re from Stuttgart in Germany and appear shocked to be here “… it’s nice being in Bilston – woohoo!” Bomb Whateva¿ are made up of Karl Francis (guitar, a Brit and former member of Bomb Disneyland), Cody Barcelona (vocals, former frontman of Skulls & Bones), Pavel (guitar) and Amin (drums). They’re a tight band, heavy and are giving it some, punky, 70s inspired Sabbath, proggie rock plus good bass beat with rhythm going on. They like it here and get a good reception from the waiting Model Army fans. Even a comment to “… make some noise…” gets a good response. Check ‘em out – I’ve a feeling they’ll be around some more.

And we wait for Cromwell’s men. New Model Army formed way back in 1645 [er… no sorry that’s the actual New Model Army], make that remarkably 1980 in Bradford, Yorkshire, releasing their first album in ‘Vengeance’ in ‘84.  Led by Justin Sullivan, the Model Army have attracted a loyal following over the years, and as a band, have always been overtly political, never fearful of being confrontational. ‘89s album ‘Thunder and Consolation’ was their landmark and probably their most commercial – reaching the Top 20 in UK charts. The Model Army have never chosen the easy route, sticking to their guns and principals throughout.  The journey has never been easy for the band throughout their history either. Lineup changes, personal tragedies are all part of the band’s history. Even since the late noughties, difficulties have caused them angst. The loss of their manager, Tommy Tee suddenly in 2008, with the band since they started out, was a major shock. In 2011, long time member Nelson left the band amicably after 22 years – days after his final gig, fire destroyed their studio, equipment and archive material – though they managed to save some touring equipment. Within 3 months they were back up and running, with new bassist and multi-instrumentalist 26 year old Ceri Monger in the fold. After his first gig, the their van got robbed, most of the guitars and other items were stolen. Kit was borrowed from family and friends and they got through the festival season… Resilient to the last – they’ve just issued their best album in years and have a huge tour bands half as old would struggle to deliver.

At just after ten past 9, we can hear an accordion, off stage, that starts off tonight’s proceedings, a rapturous applause as they take to the tiny stage, in this increasingly warm room. Almost an Arabic melody accompanied by a bass beat, we’re into ‘I Need More Time’. Sullivan’s vocals sinisterly crawl to start of with, but by the end of the song he’s screaming the title line. A big cheer from the crowd – he screams it again. The bass riff starts up and we believe it is indeed ‘Today is a Good Day.’

NMASullivan: “Ta…. welcome back to Bilston – yeah – we’ll play you this…” as we ‘March in September’; the arms start to rise from the family, fans are in full swing. ‘Pull the Sun’ is more powerful live, the drumbeat has an almost Native American beat – Monger swaps his bass for drums and the beat powers through the venue. And the crowd rise – literally, they’re standing on shoulders.

Model Army’s brand new album out ‘Between Dog and Wolf is self-produced and finished off in Los Angeles with Joe Barresi mixing (Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool). The album is filled with multi-layered tracks and atmosphere but looses none of Model Army’s passion. And the faithful here tonight already have it. They know the tracks. They know the words.

‘Christian Militia’ starts with an increasing bass beat – this be the Model Army powering up… crowd have arms in the air, spotlights on them as the faithful sing the words… Sullivan: “I think I never thought of was nostalgia for the 80s…There’s whole generation growing up thinking that Mrs. Thatcher was a kindly Meryl Streep – this is what it was really like…” and from the classic ‘Thunder and Consolation’ they deliver us  ‘Archway Towers’ followed by ‘Here Comes the War.’ Yep, the Model Army are in town – and boy, do they mean it.

And to a song about someone all the boys in the 70s wanted to be, Evil Knievel, the man who jumped things on his motorbike. He was uber-cool in the day. A quip about the prospective winter being the coldest ever “… which may or may not be true…”, a poke at the press speculation, takes us into a winter love song and title track from new outing – ‘Between Dog and Wolf’, typically poetic and beautifully written. Sullivan sweetly sings before the track starts bouncing along.

It’s so difficult to select, but this was a standout: ‘Stormclouds’. Another from their new album, it is powerful, with a stomping beat and rising crescendo; the fans be moshing and dancing at the front… we’re all singing along… as Sullivan finishes with “… Die… Die … Die…” Sullivan gives it his all; it’s personal and powerful. And then we get ‘No Rest’ .The single made the top 40 in ’85; the band appeared on Top of the Pops wearing T’s with the statement ‘Only Stupid B******s Take Heroin’. (These are available for charity on ebay from £50…)Track ends with us all shouting “… Dear God what is this evil that we’ve done? …”

‘High’ is about putting life in perspective. Well we should be top of the hills, or as Sullivan suggests: “…build a really tall tower block in Bilston…” The crowd are getting taller too – people standing or sitting on shoulders en masse, in this small venue they’re almost touching the ceiling. As Sullivan notes: “You guys kinda taking it very literally…”

If New Model Army were raising concerns about the future in the first three quarts of the gig, we’re assured that “…the last quarter of gig why you shouldn’t be scared of the future…” And we’re into ‘Seven Times’ now Monger is playing a bodhrán (Irish drum). One guy, stood high on shoulders waves his hands around like he’s doing semaphore. We come to conclusion that there’s a plane, that only he could see, that was coming into land…

‘Lust for Power’ takes us back to their punk roots, a track they haven’t plaid for years. Sullivan: ”… it’s good to be back in beautiful Bilston….”{?} “… For those of you who have come from abroad – this is what most of England looks like…” Well parts of.

As we finish on “What a Wonderful Way to Die.” Indeed. The Model Army disappear from the stage, the crowd stamp the floor, whistle, yawl, shout, cheer. We indeed want more.

They’re back. “It’s Sunday – we’ll play a Sunday song…” They were gonna play it in Yorkshire, but the Leeds audience were rubbish (more to do with the venue methinks – 02 Academies do not impress). “… 4million quid to buy a drink – far better in this warm Midlands venue…” And it’s ‘Summer Moors’. Next up we’re …”Getting the b******!” in ‘Vengeance’ followed by ‘Get Me Out.’ We exhausted – the Model Army put in huge energy and emotion – but we still want more.

And they disappear again. We’re not sure if they’ll return – but after 5 minutes they re-appear to a huge cheer. They have a day off tomorrow, so sod it. Sullivan’s knackered; he’s given us his all. But one more. ‘225’ a manic, frenzy of a track from ‘Thunder and Consolation.’

Huge. Respect.

New Model Army are one hell of a tough band. And these guys have been doing this for well over 30 years, before new guy Monger was born. Musically they are tight, soundwise great, more powerful and heavy ‘live’ and give every ounce of passion, ire and all and everything to every gig they do. You like music with real raw passion, a ‘family’ feel to the gig and a band who deliver and then some – go see New Model Army.

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Setlist: Bomb Whateva¿
No Free Ride
Come Closer
Deliver
Slippin Away
Supernova City
Keep It Clean
Mexico

Setlist: New Model Army
I Need More Time
Today is a Good Day
March in September
Did You Make It Safe?
Pull the Sun
Christian Militia
Archway Towers
Here Comes the War
Knievel
Between Dog and Wolf (N)
Stormclouds
No Rest
High
Seven Times
Lust for Power
Wonderful Way to Go

Encore:
Summer Moors
Vengeance
Get Me Out

Encore II:
225

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Listening: New Model Army
Thunder and Consolation [1989]
Between Dog and Wolf [2013]

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 Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison.