Tag Archive: Hare & Hounds

Roland Gift + John Simmitt @ Hare & Hounds, Birmingham, UK – 3 September 2014

So way back in the 80’s, as one classic Brum band ‘dissolved’ another one was born. This new band did rather well, worldwide success, and a couple of platinum albums beckoned before they too went their separate ways. But no matter, as tonight, in an exclusively snug venue, their lead singer plays in his own right, playing the old and new – it is the immense vocal talent of Roland Gift, of Fine Young Cannibals fame.

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Fine Young Cannibals were two former members of The Beat (David Steele and Andy Cox) and Gift on vocal duties. After appearing on the infamous Channel 4 music programme ‘The Tube’ performing ‘Johnny Come Home’ they got their break as labels battled to sign them. Said song appeared on their debut album along with a over of Elvis Presley’s ‘Suspicious Minds’ – but it was their second album ‘The Raw and the Cooked’ that went multiple platinum and truly global, with Fine Young Cannibals winning two Brit Awards. After then the band drifted and went their separate ways.
Gift continued in solo vein, releasing ‘It’s Only Money’ in 2002, and more recently performing with Jools Holland. Acting also beckoned – an appearance in the Hanif Kureishi penned British movie ‘Sammy & Rosie Get Laid’, acting with the Hull Truck Theatre Company and appearing in and writing music for the Barry Levinson US movie ‘Tin Men.’
So to get an opportunity to see this reclusive singer in all his vocal glory in an intimate venue like the Hare and Hounds, we are indeed lucky peoples tonight. This is part of a  handful of selected dates around the country including Hull Freedom Festival, Gateshead Sage and Raindance Film Festival at London’s Café De Paris. Why these particular locations?

“Each date on this outing has a particular significance. Birmingham is where I was born, Hull where I moved to and started playing music, Gateshead is across the river from where FYC got our break on Tyne Tees TV’s The Tube, and London is where I now live. Playing the Hare and Hounds is like coming back to my roots.”

So as we enter the tiny venue tonight, it’s already warm, and will get warmer – tonight’s gig is sold out! The room in the Hare and Hounds is small – a max of 250 and is well cosy! ‘Support’ is a different mixture. To get us in the mood we have a couple of DJ sets that are intended to get you bopping and in the mood – courtesy of David Wright from Only After Dark and Maryanne Snape. From 80s classics and I mean the class hits from Bowie, Talking Heads, New Order and Tears for Fears the crowd are bopping and enjoying the atmosphere…

Then we get a comedian. John Simmitt. And as he quite rightly explains he’s a comedian not a singer. He feel’s he should have an introduction – and as there’s no one here to do it for him, he’ll do it himself, as he hides behind a speaker and announces his prescence. And as he (re)takes to the stage – ‘‘Here Comes the Hotstepper’ pumps out of the speakers and we’re are encouraged to deliver the “Nananannnannnaaa’s”.

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Self effacing and observant in his comedy style, he quips about being asked to do this gig, and then finding out it was a music gig. And then takes the mick out of the crowd’s age – we’ll be pacing ourselves during the gig then? And he INSISTS he’s edgy, honest. Until he was offered a gig by the BBC. Woohoo! he thought. And then it involved pre-school children and fluffy suits and a long term contract. Simmit maybe edgy, but he be cuddly too – because ladies and gentlemen – his alter ego is….. Dipsy. From the Teletubbies. Ker. Ching. As he said. Simmit is great fun, entertaining – if you get a chance – check him out. “Eh-oh!”

And then here we go for the main man. The Hare and Hounds is so small that the band walk from the back of the room, to the front to make it to the stage – and they sneak through the crowd.

‘What Do You Mean?’ warms us up nicely, and get’s cheers from the crowd. Gift asks us if we like punk rock… ? “Well here’s some reggae..” which starts of with the bridal march before delivering us ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ – and we’re singing. The 6 piece band are tight, Gift’s vocals true to form and this reggaes out version has a beat and we love it.
Gift points out, as we all know, “It’s terribly hot…” and requests a pint of lager from his manager. I’m by the bar – as the request is issued, the barmaid cheekily goes ‘No!” before delivering said order. Up next ‘Girl Like You’ before the classic track that gave him and Fine Young Cannibals their break.

‘Johnny Come Home’ is a stomping rendition. Wowsers. ‘It’s Only Money’ from his 2002 solo effort rolls and rolls – Gift and his band are slick and professional. Somebody shout’s ‘I love you…” – “I love you too baby.” Fascinating fact of the day: Gift was one a cover star of Rolling Stone and voted one of People magazine’s ’50 Most Beautiful People’…
It’s difficult to say what’s the best – but the classics are delivered impeccably – Gift’s voice remains truly unique and time hasn’t aged his vocal ability. He’s just pure talent. ‘Good Thing’ get’s us bopping more and singing – ‘Crushed’ starts off as a ballad – ‘beautiful’ shouts an audience member. Close your eyes – hear his vocals – he is indeed ‘crushed’ as you can here the emotion as his voice tells the story. The song rises and rises before be full stop. Elvis is not in the house (and probably not at the local chippy) – but Gift’s version of ‘Suspicious Minds’ equals and delivers – one of the biggest cheers of the night. ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ straight back in time – but as fresh as the day it was recorded to tape. ‘Broken Hear’ has the beat of ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go Now”…. but we’re still here. No going anywhere. “I’m Not the Man’ rolls on and we sing.

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And a break and here we go again – a ‘Beatles Encore’ – and there’s a grind as we go into baby it’s you – all psychedelic man – he’s a free man…. before a smattering of ‘Blue.’

The dizzying heights of all that success in the mid eighties may have gone – and maybe for Gift that’s a ‘good thing’. He seems somewhat shy, quite literally letting that voice do the talking. But for the 250 punters here tonight – a thoroughly enjoyable time – and a pleasure to close your eyes and take in the vocals and Gift took us on his journey. Is he the mans he used to be? Hell yeah. Johnny came home tonight.

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Review for Gig Junkies and 102.5 The Bridge. Pictures courtesy of Ken Harrison.

Erica Nockalls + Miles Hunt + Laura Kidd @ Hare & Hounds, Birmingham 16 July 13

So for the first time in years the British summer has actually appeared and we’re all drooping in heat that would be great if you were on holibobs – maybe not so great if you have to work! Tonight we’re at the indie venue in Brum with a legendary status, the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath, to see a ‘family affair’ – interlinking artistes – who do more than just play music.  Predicting the room would be hot and stuffy – we’re wrong! Tonight’s air con is hugely efficient; it’s cooler inside than out.

First up it’s Miles Hunt. Frontsman of local and original grebos The Wonder Stuff and one time half of the acoustic duo with (and squeeze of) headliner Erica Nockalls. An acoustic set, just him and his guitar with witty anecdotes between. “Evenin’ all…. Lovely to be ‘ere, last time I was up here I was blind drunk…” Tonight’s he’s playing an “unusual collection of songs – which you might fuckin’ hate….” many written when he was in “a dark place…” I used to drink in Stourbridge. I saw all these indie bands before and as they set off on their trail of indie-music greatness. We were a bunch of kids and life’s directions have all taken us on different journeys – some good and some not so good. Clearly Hunt has had, at times, a difficult journey too, regardless of the fact he’s lauded locally as a grebo rock god. ‘Give It To Me Whole’ and ‘At One’ clearly show the place Hunt was in when he wrote these. Another one, ‘Smoked’, written in the early hours of the morning after being slagged off by so called mates after “a fuckin’ awful night”. It’s a rocking, rolling song – he stops to say before the end… “Told you this wasn’t a cheery one – it’s even getting me down…” before continuing on his musical way.

Next up a new Stuffies track to “lighten the mood” – ‘Friendly Company’ with classic Stuffie sound. And to another “grim song” ‘Yes and No’ and then to a song from his band Vent 414 (formed after the Stuffies first split in the 90’s) ‘Fixer’ – “Good memories; fuckin’ depressing lyrics.” A comment made that his vocals may note quite hit the mark “I was 28 when I wrote this, I’m now nearly 50 for fuck sake…”

And for his last, we have a choice of a couple of covers or an option of a Stuffie song. An audience member shouts out and here it is – the uplifting ditty (from second Wonder Stuff album ‘Hup’) that is ‘Piece of Sky’. We all sing along….

Hunt is clear; he’s not the main act of tonight. That is very definitely Nockalls. “God bless ya! Enjoy Erica… I know you will…”. His lyrical inspiration may have been dark but he’s clearly in a better place now – tonight Hunt with his anecdotes, is witty and funny, his solo set is great.  You should do “more, more, more” of this spoken word set Miles….

Tonight’s audience is around 100; friends, family, those who’ve turned up to see Hunt, those who are intrigued by Nockalls. It’s nicely cozy in the room. Twenty-minute break and onto a dry iced, blue-lit stage, here’s the statuesque Erica Knockalls. “Good evening Birmingham – let’s do this!” Violin in hand and we’re into the punk inspired rolling track that is ‘Neon Crucifix’.

Nockalls graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire after which, she’s spent the last eight years being the fiddly with The Wonder Stuff. And she’s worked with The Proclaimers and recently toured with Fink.  Her debut album ‘Imminent Room’, which she’s promoting tonight, contains contributions from Wayne Hussey (The Mission), guitarist Mark Gemini (Pete Murphy, The Mission) and vocalist from Carcass, Jeff Walker. In her own words “I hadn’t been able to find any good new music to listen to, so I thought I’d invent some of my own”.  

Next track ‘Forest’ is indie dance – Nockalls is akin to an indie Gwen Stephani – sound-wise she’s rockier and heavier live than on the couple of singles I’ve listened to. And it all works really well. ‘Manikan’ is a clutter-buck of a song with a great bass beat. ‘I Am Me / This Is Now’ morphs into surprisingly heavy rock.

At the back of the stage, fixed to the walls are pieces of artwork. She’s more than a talented musician – this art is for sale. “You can buy, no price tags, make an offer through my website…” and is accompanied by a moody atmospheric track ‘It’s Killer, Darling’.

New single ‘Cut Them Out’ is followed by a track “…so new the paint’s still wet” – ‘Metrical Romance’ – a sultry Strawberry Switchblade (remember them?)-esque track which gets heavier and heavier…. “Thanks you’ve been awesome – I can’t believe it…. Let’s get drunk…”

Erica Nockalls was somewhat of a surprise. Check out her new album and even better, if you get a chance, go see her live.

Nockalls was officially the headliner, however tonight is not over, now we get Laura Kidd, bass player of Nockalls’ band (and also for Viv Albertine) and general all round artiste. She creates her music as she goes along, singing or playing and then recording and feeding it back into a multi-layered loop, which she then sings over. Kidd is indie in sound and style, with smatterings of PJ Harvey and Melissa Auf der Maur. ‘Olympian’ is a pretty track; ‘Delete’ “about the internet not suicide” are all built on the fly. She’s two albums on sale tonight, sang with Karina Round at this very venue (which is when she met Hunt and Nockalls and, slightly pissed, gained the courage to thrust a CD into their hands. They clearly liked what they heard.)

‘Slow Puncture’ gains a cheer from the audience – “three people – awesome!” encouraging the crowd to “sing along and I’ll feel awesome”. ‘In this boat’ Kidd teaches us the chorus to so we can sing along: “…you are an anchor, I am a wave…” The song is written about an ex (who’s not here tonight!) – the first line could be flexibly changed to “I am a wanker….” Periodically she walks off stage through the audience singing – with megaphone or uke. She goes down really well and clearly thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity. Video maker and all round creative talent you can find out lots more about Laura Kidd at www.shemakeswar.com

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Setlist:

  1. Neon Crucifix
  2. Forest
  3. Manikan
  4. I Am Me / This Is NOW
  5. Day One
  6. It’s Killer, Darling
  7. Cut Them Out
  8. Metrical Romance

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Review for Gig Junkies. Photographer: Ken Harrison.