Tag Archive: o2 Academy

Travis + Thomas J. Speight @ O2 Academy Birmingham, 26 October 2013.

On a wet and windy night in Brum we feel that we really should be chilling out in meadows in a festival field on a summer’s day, as the uplifting and charismatic Travis make a return. Instead we hum the lyrics to one of their biggest hits as we make our windswept way to the O2 Academy – why indeed does it always rain on me?

It has been a while. Travis have been off doing family things, hanging out with their kids and taking a break, never splitting (although the muso press may like to speculate). Formed in Glasgow in ’90, a late star of Britpop and very possibly the leading inspirational light for (the recently split or not as the case may be) Keane and more the commercially recognisable Coldplay. Travis are still Fran Healey (vocals), Dougie Payne (bass), Andy Dunlop (guitar) and Neil Primrose (drums). It was the late 90’s that brought the album ‘The Man Who’ (including that rain song), huge success, massive world tours and the plaudits and awards, as did the follow-up ‘The Invisible Band’.  BRITS, Ivor Novellos, Q Awards and then some followed. Success was slightly curtailed in the early noughties by a dreadful near death incident where Primrose broke his neck in a swimming pool accident. Primrose thankfully fully recovered and Travis went on to record and tour before their ‘family’ break. Now to 2013, after a five year break, they are back on tour with new album in tow – ‘Where You Stand.’

Support tonight is from a Thomas J Speight. Expecting a man with guitar, we’re wrong – there’s him with a band and accompanying female vocalist. They / he are light but enjoyable, harmonised folk vocals. They fit the bill well: the gathering audience clapping, they are going down well. “Thank you for being so awesome so far – only second gig in Birmingham…” Lots of people talking as Speight takes request for an audience member in a long distance relationship, so for Terry, we get their song about such a situation. With T’s and CDs for sale and an appreciative audience (and an support from Sir Paul McCartney as one to watch) summer festivals clearly beckon in 2014.

Quick interlude as the kit is swapped and on to a blackened set and accompanying strumming guitar, the lads from Travis appear on stage, Healey akin in trademark hat. First track ‘Mother’ goes down well as a guitar-laden Healey bops around the Stage. The set is streamed with red light and we get the uplifting a boppy ‘Selfish Jean.’

Healey is chatty, affable and entertaining: “Hi everyone, how you doing? It’s great to be back – thanks for coming tonight to see a very small man sweating a lot – I’ve got very large sweat glands!!! So great to be back…” Big cheer from the crowd.  “Kids are best song you’ll ever write about…” “aaaah…” go the females in the audience as Healey relates his latest inspirational musical subject matter. Tonight they’ll be playing old songs and the new.  ‘Morning’ has the infectious rising chant of “on and on and on and on….” Travis are indeed still quality, truly professional energetic and really rather fun.

Quite a few audience members have been clearly participating in the falling down water, there’s one or two dad-dancing or staggering around, their feet not quite doing what is required. Healey gets everyone to put their hands up, wave them side to side, “tick tock, like a metronome” and everybody does as we go into ‘Love Will Come Through’ which all too sweetly rolls. Travis are clearly enjoying being back on the road, big smiles across all the lads faces, as we’re into ‘Driftwood’ and we all sing along.

They played London recently (the partisan Brum crowd boo). Healey comments on the ‘need’ for people to take video be it by smartphones or even iPads etc. He doesn’t care if the band is being filmed (he genuinely really doesn’t mind) but he does point out the bleedin’ obvious to which any gig-goer will agree. Those behind those filming can’t see the stage. “Remember – ask the person behind if it’s okay. And they’ll say no.” The comment gets a big cheer from the crowd.

For ‘Where You Stand’, Healey’s off the stage, he’s standing on the barrier singing over the crowd. “The security guard was like …bleurgh…” he quips. ‘My Eyes’ was written when he found out he was gonna be a dad. ‘Reminder’ is a song for his seven year old; if for some inexplicable reason, he wasn’t around, this song is a list of instructions. It’s the hits get the biggest cheers as we sing along to ‘Side’ “That the grass is always greener on the other side, the neighbour’s got a new car that you wanna drive…” “ And we “sing, sing, sing, siiiinnnnggg…..” along to ‘Sing.’ Healey engages with the crowd throughout; he’s a surprisingly good showman.

‘Blue Flashing Light’, with a lighting display surprising of blue flashing lights is probably the heaviest track of the night, followed by last of this part of the set: ‘Turn.’ And for the encore we get a few more tracks and a final reminder of what we can expect when we leave the venue: “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?”

Travis are fun. And talented. And professional. Coldplay will charge you 70 nicker in an arena or stadium. But you couldn’t do far better than to pay a little over £20 to see Travis in a small venue. Travis are a band that well, just makes you want to smile. Indie pop sugar pop happy days. And they’re still on form. So we leave smiling. And singing. And as we leave and get wet once again, we’re humming their song again…

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Setlist:

  1. Mother
  2. Selfish Jean
  3. Pipe Dreams
  4. Morning
  5. Love Will Come Through
  6. Driftwood
  7. Warning Sign
  8. Re-offender
  9. Where You Stand
  10. My Eyes
  11. Reminder
  12. Writing to Reach You
  13. Side
  14. Closer
  15. Sing
  16. Slide Show
  17. Blue Flashing Light
  18. Turn

Encore:

  1. Good Feeling
  2. Flowers in the Window
  3. All I Want to Do is Rock
  4. Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

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Listening:

The Man Who [1999]

The Invisible Band [2001]

Where You stand [2013]

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Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ian Dunn.

Public Image Ltd + The Selector + Erica Nockalls @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 20th October 2013

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 15.56.32Tonight’s gig is most definitely something old, something new, nothing borrowed, something blue. The shiny and new is Erica Nockalls, something old (as in historic) are Coventry’s 2Toners The Selector and the entirely relevant and slightly blue legendary John Lydon and his band of brothers – aka Public Image Ltd.

We arrive pretty early, before 7pm, and there’s already a queue. Security come out, doors open. Then doors close and security go back in. Okay – what be going on here? 7.15 the queue is growing and we’re still waiting. A quick chat with a security guy who’s ventured out and we discover that sound checks are still ongoing. Five minutes later the doors finally open and we queue to go in. Bizarrely paying punters with tickets in hand appear to be outnumbered by those on the guestlist – Nockalls (and her other half Miles Hunt) have been offering up guestlist places like there’s no tomorrow and The Selector too have a group of people in tow.

As we enter the main 02 Academy at 7.25pm, Erica Nockalls is on stage, akin in leather and pink tutu. “Thanks for having us….” The venue is pretty sparse and usually absolutely freezing cold, as she sets off her rock-punk set. I saw her at the Hare and Hounds recently – she is different and pretty good. 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.  “This is my own band – I’ve played on this stage a number of times… let’s see how much trouble I can get in on my own.” An appreciative Hunt is at the sound desk; his tousled head bopping up and down.  Her debut album ‘Imminent Room’ is out now. 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”.  The sound check issues are showing, unfortunately the sound isn’t good, way too loud to get a true reflection of Nockalls’ ability.

The Academy is still pretty empty as on come the 2Tone ska band from Coventry – The Selector. Formed late 70s, they’d split by ’83 with singer Pauline Black leading a reformed version for 15 years from ’91.  Confusion over differing versions of the band – a legal challenge ensued and Black’s official line up tonight now be the official version of The Selector. A big cheer comes from the audience and they start to bounce along to the self- titled ‘The Selector.’ The band are energetic and enjoyable; “get on the ‘Train to Skaville’” ‘James Bond’ all skaed up with their Licence to Kill. ‘On My Radio’ we all sing and bounce and the set finishes with ‘Too Much Pressure.’ It’ll be 35 years since The Selector started out next year – you can catch them on tour in 2014 and back at here at the Academy on March 13th.

Even though we had the earlier delay, the bands on stage timings are now back on track, though bizarrely, and I really don’t understand why, the crowd is pretty sparse. If you take away the long list of people who collared a guestlist entrance I suspect this gig was lucky not to be downgraded to the Academy2 – there must be between 500-800 people here. I didn’t expect a sold out gig – but I expected far more than this.

Formed in 1978, Lydon remains the only sole consistent member of PiL. Their musical sound covers a diverse experimental range of sounds; from screaming chants and bile ridden attacks of ‘Public Image’ and ‘This is Not a Love Song’ through the ‘rise’ of their 1986 release – classically and simply marketed as ‘Album’, ‘Cassette’ and ‘Compact Disc’ – mixed with the trademark Lydon sneer and haunting, rising melodies. In ’92, PiL were officially in hiatus, Lydon occasionally appearing with the reformed Sex Pistols, and in a brilliant turn on “I’m a Celebrity…..” a total polar opposite of what one would expect, but no parody – maybe two fingers to the reality TV  genre, they clearly signed him because of his unpredictability. Far more astute than that, he walked, but we all knew he would have won, hands down. To quote a comment from the time on the PiL website “He also brings quality TV to the masses”. Too right.  Lydon’s ability to do the polar opposite of what people would expect of him, took him to ‘Country Life Butter’ adverts and gave him the financial ability to go back to his true love; to reform and tour PiL in late 2009. Since then they’ve gone from strength to strength, playing the US and European festivals. In 2011, PiL were awarded the ‘Outstanding Contribution to Music’ at the Mojo Honours list. On 28th May 2012, on their own self funded label, PiL Official Ltd, they released their first studio album in 20 years – ‘This is PiL’ to critical acclaim. Track ‘Under the House’ featured in the Olympic 2012 Opening Ceremony and earlier this week Lydon received the prestigious BMI Icon Award for songwriters – recognising his work with the Sex Pistols and PiL and impact he’s had on social culture:

“It couldn’t be more appropriate and timely, really, considering the body of work I’ve just had to go through and endure to get my Public Image back up again, form our own label and be completely free and independent of the large corporations. This is very, very timely for me. And I think, you know, what took you so long? [laughter]” – John Lydon, BMI Q&A

For Lydon PiL is serious. It’s about their music. Delivered immaculately. This is not about John Lydon misbehaving, spitting venom and winding the crowd up.  Bang on 9pm, the venue is darkened and a single light shines of the PiL logo fixed to netting at the back of the stage. Lydon greets us with ‘Good evening….’ and we’re off. ‘Deeper Water’ is off the new album – this is a song that rolls and licks with Lydon’s vocals as he yowls and purrs. No words between songs and we’re into ‘Albatross.’

“ ‘ello Brum. Are you ready?” The crowd heckle; it’s part of the crack at any PiL gig and we’re into ‘This is Not a Love Song’, still snarly and irreverent, but all funked up.  “Are you there? Are you ready?’” comes the snarl. The technical sound difficulties continue, the band still play on; Lydon “I can hear f**k all… just f**king disortion…” It’s not getting sorted. “Carry on playing…” and the band duly do. “I’m getting a real problem here…” To the crowd: “Now it’ not Johnny throwing a diva…. I aint got no tits….” and slowly, from his side the sound is rectified but not to the audience. The balance is out, Lydon sounds like he’s singing in an enormous tin can – it’s difficult to hear the rhythms within the songs.

“This is what you want…. This is what you get…. This is what you want… this is what you get….” Lydon chants leading into ‘The Body.’ To crowd applause and wolf whistles. “And the crowd went wild…” he quips. The mighty ‘Warrior’ rolls on next – many of the songs are longer editions they are not just three minute; at least 10 each.

A break between songs, as Lydon speaks to the drummer – the crowd start chanting “You fat bas***d…” A classic Lydon retort; “Where’s your f***ing manners? – Can’t you see we’re having a chat…” and we get ‘Death Disco’. The set is completed by new track ‘One Drop’ and Lydon plays to the crowd as they exit stage right.

Back on “You all be tired… you must have run the marathon. Who won? I was there in mind, spirit and complete f***ing drunken laziness…” And we get the in your face ‘Public Image’ which receives a huge cheer before the class act that is ‘Rise’. The sound by now is excruciatingly loud and distorted. “It’s good when they put the lights on you… my god you’re ugly… but not as ugly as me…” Then get down and dance as we get PiL doing the Lydon/Leftfield dance/ trance classic ‘Open Up…’

“Thank you Birmingham – for putting up with us…”  Lydon is totally and completely sincere in his comment.

I’ve seen PiL before. They are indeed a stunning and awesome sight. Unfortunately tonight, the venue that let them down, the sound balance was mostly terrible. A great show, but we didn’t hear PiL in their true glorious colours.

Lydon has been accused of becoming almost becoming a cartoon character of his punk and eccentric image. But what he is, is far more. More than just a national treasure, he provides a masterclass in longevity, charisma and that chameleon approach to being open to create and vocalise, logic and create music in a truly different and unique approach. Fiercely articulate and intelligent, he is far more than just the obnoxious lead singer of a punk band that may have changed the world thirty odd years ago – PiL over the years have created a series of foot stomping classics, utilizing rock, dance, folk, ballet, pop and dub.

Lydon was key to changing the world of music. He truly deserves all the accolades chucked at him and you know really, he’s rather chuffed, regardless of his irreverent demeanor.  He helped to give a multitude of musicians the opportunity to create music for the masses that just wouldn’t have been thought possible to achieve. PiL are entirely a class act – and for all who have been inspired by the opportunity to create alternative music, then surely the opportunity to see one of the most eclectic and revolutionary artists of recent times, on form, is a must.  PiL will be back – hopefully at a venue that will do them for better justice. Get the opportunity, a must go and see.

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PiL Setlist;

1. Deeper Water

2. Albatross

3. This is Not A Love Song

4. Pop Tones

5. Careering

[This is what you want]

6. The Body

[This is what you want]

7. Warrior

8. Reggae Song

9. Death Disco

10. Out of the Woods

11. One Drop

Encore:

12. Public Image

13. Rise

14. Open Up

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Listening [PiL]:

Lydon’s response to which of his recordings to listen to:

“I would recommend you see us live and hear what this is truly about, and from there on in you can make your own decisions. For me it’s always been about live performance. That’s the be-all and end-all of it really. That’s the ultimate release.” John Lydon, BMI Q&A

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Review for Gig Junkies; Photos: Ken Harrison.

Soundgarden + Graveyard @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 14 September 2013

Tonight it’s rammed in Birmingham’s 02 Academy as fans flock in to see one of the giants of grunge, the recently reformed Soundgarden.

And as I arrive, Swedish rockers Graveyard are giving it a bit of heavy bluesy-rock, smattered with psychedelic riffs. Joakim Nilsson (guitar and vocals), Jonatan Larocca-Ramm (guitar and vocals) Rikard Edlund (bass) and Axel Sjöberg (drums) came together in Gothenburg in 2006 out of the ashes of previous bands and musings. Similar in genre to the main headliner (which makes a change) the crowd responds well. They finish their half hour set with a Zeppelin inspired blues title track off their second album. Latest album ‘Lights Out’ was released in October 2012. To cheers from the crowd they promise they will return – check them out through their Facebook page.

And now we wait for the main act, we watch a ridiculous amount of roadies swapping kit – even one vacuuming the stage. And while we wait here’s a potted bit of history. Formed in ’84, Soundgarden were one of the seminal bands and leading lights in the Seattle grunge scene before it spread out across the globe. They may have been first to sign to a major label but international success came on the back of the bands following in the wake of Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam.

Chris Cornell (vocals and guitar), Kim Thayil (guitar), Matt Cameron (drums) and joined by bassist Ben Shepherd in 1990 and, after localized, success launched album ‘Badmotorfinger’. It was the follow-up ‘Superunknown’ which took then stratospheric – a dark multi-award winning album compete with Grammy winning tracks: ‘Black Hole Sun’ and ‘Spoonman.’  The follow-up ‘Down on the Upside’ was a tad of a departure – not as  heavy than their previous works and, as touring took its toll; Soundgarden spilt citing “creative differences.”  Each individual’s career took different directions. Cameron joined Seattle kinsmen Pearl Jam becoming their permanent drummer; Cornell went solo, hooked up with members of Rage Against The Machine to form supergroup Audioslave, before returning to a successful solo career, recording a Bond theme plus a sidestep with Timbaland and more recently, touring extensively with his ‘Songbook’ acoustic / spoken word gigs.

13 years after the split, Soundgarden got back together. Live gigs followed in 2012 with a trip to the recording studio culminating in their first album in 15 years ‘King Animal’. Soundgarden alone, let alone all the other projects, have sold well over 22 million albums worldwide; tonight is one of a handful of dates across the UK in O2 Academy venues.

The band is due on at 9pm, and at 5 past a roadie comes out and fixes the setlists to the floor; Soundgarden mix their set up – never doing the same two nights in a row. The crowd starts a slow handclap and start shouting in anticipation. Then to strobing lights each member separately appears on stage, to rapturous applause from the crowd.

First up ‘Let Me Down’, receives a big cheer but an even bigger response to second track; the tumthumping ‘Spoonman’. Cameron and Shepherd give it the bass rhythm core whilst Cornell stands and screams above the crowd as the track rolls on. The Brum crowd is well pleased.

Third track in is a heavy thumping track, with riff from Thiyal accompanied by Cornell’s stunning vocals. Another from their latest outing ‘By Crooked Steps.’ The affable Cornell: “Thank you… been a long time since we’ve been here… we have some friends from Birmingham – Kim said write a song about Birmingham so we did…” and as we roll into first single from ‘King Animal’ ‘Been Away Too Long.’ (I do speculate they say this about every place they play in…)

Old track ‘Get on the Snake’ has an anecdote about when they started out and dragging themselves around the world in a van. Cameron, like I need to say this, is a mesmerizing drummer.

This is a well rounded setlist from the guys, something old, something new, something classic, something out the norm… the new single from ‘King Animal’ ‘Pretty Noose’ followed up with that jingly guitar riff as Cornell’s implores… “Follow me into the desert as thirsty as you are…”  – this be ‘Burden In My Hand’ – one of the stand out tracks of tonight from their pre-split last album. The crowd accompanies Cornell as he sings.

Then the classic and iconic dark ‘Black Hole Sun’, albeit delivered a tad lacklustre. Next a song that was the first they played when they come back together and surprisingly one they never played live in their previous life. You can see why they did; ‘Blind Dogs’ is a powerful track. And then back to ‘Superunknown’ and a track that was written in the ‘dreary’ Seattle – ‘ a place where there is seven different types of mould’ – its ‘Fell on Black Days.’ Big cheers followed by ‘Blow Up the Outside World’ a track that rolls and rolls, Cornell backlit as he swings his arms while playing his guitar. Set competes with ‘Rusty Cage’- Shepherd is not happy, giving his bass away and disappearing off stage.

For the encore we get two tracks, starting of with off with the controversial (at the time) ‘Jesus Christ Pose.’

Soundgarden 2013 is indeed an older incarnation. The band gave fans tonight a real mix of the Soundgarden musical journey. If they hadn’t split after ‘Down on the Upside’ it would have been interesting to see where their creative journey had taken them – 2013‘s ‘King Animal’ skipped a beat as they all took different journeys.  As a band, they may be not as energetic as they once were – letting the music do the talking. After nearly 30 years since they formed, the talent of Cornell and his truly incredible voice and Cameron the thunder-god, are clearly the standout members of the foursome. A good night, though I’ve seen Cornell with Soundgarden, Audioslave and with and without band in tow, and Cameron and his mates in Pearl Jam, give far better live performances – tonight the band seemed muted – Cornell seemed less keen to front the band – more aware of being part of them.

Tickets were a tad on the pricey side tonight at £40 + for one of their shorter sets at twenty songs and an hour and fifty. Nearer fans than I spotted technical difficulties – was this the reason for the shortened set? Will Soundgarden return once again? It feels like Soundgarden has become the band member’s side-project – Shepherd’s just released a new album, Cameron will soon be off thumping the skins with his ‘other’ band Pearl Jam, as they promote their new outing, Cornell has just released a huge tour of North American as part of his acoustic ‘Songbook’ tour. Cornell, interviewed in January, said there was no reason the band shouldn’t make more music in the future. So their paths may cross again and they may well once again visit our shores.

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Set List:

  1. Let Me Down
  2. Spoonman
  3. By Crooked Steps
  4. Been Away Too Long
  5. Worse Dreams
  6. My Wave
  7. Get on the Snake
  8. Non-State Actor
  9. Pretty Noose
  10. Burden in my Hand
  11. Blood on the Valley
  12. Black Hole Sun
  13. Blind Dogs
  14. Taree
  15. Eyelid’s Mouth
  16. Fell on Black Days
  17. Blow Up the Outside World
  18. Rusty Cage

Encore:

  1. Jesus Christ Pose
  2. Slaves and Bulldozers

 

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Reviewed for Birmingham Live! Pictures: John Mason

 

James + Echo and the Bunnymen @ O2 Academy, Birmingham, 25th April 2013,

When I first heard of this line-up I thought it was a tad odd. Bands from two different eras and two different generations of fans – the mighty Echo and the Bunnymen – once princes of the indie alternative scene of the early and mid 80s. And then, James, the kings of 90’s indie dance anthems. Both had highs of success, under the radar and commercially. So this’ll be an interesting Spring gig at the O2 Academy.

So with this kinda double headliner, first act Echo and the Bunnymen, it’s an early start. As we arrive at 7pm, the punters are already arriving – the venue is filling nicely. Photo passes for photographers tonight initially had a ‘questionable’ ‘sign your life away agreement’ for James though this appeared to dissipate. McCulloch and his Bunnymen are fussier (I guess whether you think that he is entitled to be so or just plain arrogant). Photographers are only allowed to shoot from the side of the pit at the front of the stage and only for one song. If that wasn’t enough before they arrive on set, the stage is draped in a dry ice thick smog, and once the band appear, the lighting is minimal (atmospheric you know) and “in your dreams” are words that come to mind with any success of getting a near decent shot.

If you ask me to choose between James and the Bunnymen as to whom I’d listen to it would have to be the Bunnymen. I grew up with these guys, I saw them in their hey-day – at The Odeon – they were class. I know their likely set tonight, for any Bunnymen fan, is should be a delight. Though short, 45 minutes, you get the best from very early, classic indie hits, and then the later commercial sound.

First up with ‘Lips Like Sugar’ the band warm up halfway through the song. Then a treat – a duo of early tracks ‘Rescue’ and ‘Do It Clean.’ I’m in a time warp – taken back to the hours spent in darkened, stick floored goth indie clubs, meandering in the maze of the indie sound. McCulloch, as usual, with floppy mess of hair, is dressed in long dark coat and trademark blackened sunglasses. Like you’d change your image after all this time. “Alight?” he addresses the audience, to a positive response. “Me too…” he replies in his best Liverpudlian drawl.

Next up it’s the later commercial side, less angsty, including ‘Seven Seas’ and ‘Bring on the Dancing Horses’. The band are on form, the spiraling darkened class riffs are there  – I would love to say the set just gets better and better. But it starts to decline. The Bunnymen are visually the same throughout, they don’t do anything ‘exciting’ on stage – they are a band where it is the music that carries them – a ‘close your eyes’ and dance away type of band. But McCulloch is struggling vocally. While he has a unique voice, he’s off the mark. ‘Never Stop’ still remains the indie classic that it is, but he struggles to deliver. “This is the best song ever written” as McCulloch’s modesty prevails and we crawl into a somewhat painful rendition of ‘Killing Moon’. I worry; I know what the final track is – a track that, for me, would probably make my top twenty ever.  McCulloch introduces it as “…. the second greatest song ever written…” As the track starts it is indeed the classic ‘The Cutter’. McCulloch swigs from a tinny, obviously with some success, for this track, his vocals return. I had hoped, but for me, the Bunnymen of today are a shadow of their former selves.

Then we get a half an hour interlude. The O2 is sold out tonight, so we’re packed in like sardines. Booth and his ‘band that is not a person’ have a truly loyal fan-base, not in the manic screamy sense – but that of a close-nit community. Surprisingly, James were formed way back in ’82. This means they’ve been around over 30 years. After struggling for success and at times being totally skint, success finally came with the release of ‘Gold Mother’ in ‘90, with a subsequent series of hits. The most successful ‘Sit Down’, re-worked from its original ’88 version, made #2 in the charts in ’91.

Lead singer Tim Booth left in 2001 and returned in 2007 to tour and record new albums; including 2008‘s ‘Hey Ma’. In 2010, they released two mini EPs: ‘The Morning After.’ and ‘The Night Before’. And they’re still recording; new album may appear soon. There are indeed, new tracks tonight. In the busy O2 people are talking, the backing track before the band is on is indistinguishable, but has a tap and bass rhythm that starts to reverberate through the room. You can feel the atmosphere beginning to build. 10 minutes later than billed they appear to a very low key ‘Loose Control’ which starts with a guitar and trumpet before morphing into a jazz rendition. Chillin’ man. The crowd join in and welcome the band with a huge cheer – Booth claps the audience in acknowledgment – “Where is the love? Look’s like it’s here in Birmingham! One.Two… One. Two. Three. Four…” and we’re into ‘Waltzing Along’ as the crowd sing VERY loudly.

By track three – Booth can’t resist – he’s off stage in the pit and now on the railings – now standing on the railings, he delivers ‘How Was It For You’ – embarking at one stage into the audience. The megaphone is out for next song ‘Sound’ and he’ll be snake dancing.  Couple of tracks later, including a newbie, we get another “One.Two… One. Two. Three. Four…” and nobody it doing what the song title tells us to: ‘Sit Down’. (Fortunately there’s no sight of Peter Kaye plus red sofa). The crowd rolls and sings – we’re back in a sun-soaked festival field. The crowd take over: “Oh sit down, oh sit down, sit down next to me…” the band have stopped playing, the crowd are in charge as Booth conducts them. He’s a charismatic, articulate, yet serious and entertaining front man and this must be a pretty awesome feeling for any band. The crowd doesn’t just sing this – they OWN this – this is THEIR anthem. At the end, the crowd clap and cheer, both at Booth and the guys and themselves. For me, the standout moment of the night.

When you see James you can expect them to do a rolling set of songs. No single night is ever repeated. Last tour they had a rolling setlist of 54 songs and tonight is no different. On top of that members of the band are free to deliver tracks as they wish – so each song is always different. Do not expect the ‘single’ release edition to be performed, as Booth explains: “I’m proud to be in a band which changes the set every night – we don’t know what each other will do – we’re given the freedom to explore – maybe that’s why we’ve been going so long…” as he thanks the crowd for listening. One song may be laid back, another a dervish dance track – accompanied by Booth’s manic dancing. As the set goes on, the songs individually get longer, and longer, each one taking the slow build to riotous crescendo. ‘Born of Frustration’ – yet another that gets the crowd singing (and one that McCulloch, or a very good clone, pops out from backstage to watch). ‘Come Home’ – we’re raving. “You all gonna come to Manchester tomorrow night?” as we get invited to the next gig.

A regular downside at the O2 is the sound. It is not unknown to be dire. And while ‘Sometimes’ delivers and then some – the sound system ruins it – where we are it is just a dirge.  A quick break and back onto a dance version of ‘Sometimes’ followed by ‘Johnny Yen’ which includes acknowledgements to those “who died to entertain” – Winehouse and Cobain amongst them. I don’t know what Booth is on – but I want some – he’s still dancing frenetically. ‘Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)’ starts off acoustic and gathers pace into dance rave, followed by the classic ‘Laid’, in not so classic ‘freeform’, and again the crowd are louder than the band.

And then it’s over. A standing ovation from the balconies and full on adulation from the floor- the punters have clearly had one hell of a blast.

So thought’s on the night? Whilst some James fans probably wondered who this strange band was – McCulloch and his Bunnymen are currently out and about on the scene – they headlined Moseley Folk last year. They are, given tonight’s performance, in my opinion, a shadow of their former selves. I’m sure fans will go for it, but be warned; they don’t appear to be the band they used to be. Booth and James (is not a person) are a full on indie party band, Booth a charismatic and totally engaging front man, and they all love their unique relationship with the audience. If you have 45 nicker going spare – go take a look, make sure you have your dancing boots on. Be prepared to spiral dance on, and on, and on, and on and on, and on, and on….

………..

Echo Setlist:

1. Lips Like Sugar

2. Rescue

3. Do It Clean

4. Seven Seas

5. Bring on the Dancing Horses

6. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo

7. (All My Colours) Zimbo

8. Never Stop

9. Nothing Lasts Forever

10. Killing Moon

11. The Cutter

 

James Setlist:

  1. Loose Control
  2. Waltzing Along
  3. How Was It for You
  4. Sound
  5. Interrogation
  6. Five-0
  7. Say Something
  8. Sit Down
  9. Top of the World
  10. Beefcake
  11. Star (Full Up Version)
  12. Moving On
  13. We’re Going to Miss You
  14. Born of Frustration
  15. Come Home
  16. Sometimes

 

Encore:

  1. Johnny Yen
  2. Getting Away With It (All Messed Up)
  3. Laid

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Listening:

James

Fresh as a Daisy – The Singles [2007]

Gold Mother [1990]

 

Echo and the Bunnymen

Porcupine [1983]

Ocean Rain [1984]

Songs to Learn and Sing (Greatest Hits) [1985][2006]

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Review for Gig Junkies and Birmingham Live!

Photographer for Gig Junkies – Ken Harrison and for Birmingham Live! Ian Dunn.

The Stranglers + The Godfathers @02 Academy, 16 March 2013

So it’s THAT time of year again – I set my calendar to remind me of this date a year ago; way before tour dates were announced. Spot on schedule one of the UK’s most enduring bands, The Stranglers are back in town. These guys unique style has lead to 23 UK top 40 singles and 17 UK top 40 albums and with a true stubbornness to call it quits, even with the loss of more than one lead singer; they’ve successfully achieved a career spanning four decades

As I turn up to the 02 Academy there’s massive queues. The problem appears to be something to do with a failure in the ticketing system, which has led to quite a delay. By the time most people are still getting into the venue after 8, the support act is already on stage.

The Godfathers formed way back in ’85 by Peter and Chris Coyne after the demise of previous band The Sid Presley Experience. Whilst they made their name on the indie / punk scene, they didn’t really get a break in the UK and spilt. Various reformations over the years, in the late noughties they reformed with the original line-up. This didn’t last long, but now they’ve found stable group and path and have been recording – new album due soon I believe, plus lots of dates including this month long tour with The Stranglers. They remain loud, aggressive, rock, rhythm and blues punk – Chris Coyne has deep raspy vocals and a no nonsense attitude to hecklers. They go down well.

Busy noisy crowd as we wait for The Stranglers. Crowd is chatting excitedly, plus a couple of blokes who should know far better and have drunk too much falling down water. One is practically passed out on a sofa. The other hurls a huge volume over the carpet, before the bouncers clock him. Lovely.

The crowd is expectant and whistles start. Formed in ’74 by founding members Jean Jaques (J.J.) Burnel, Jet Black and Hugh Cornwell, Dave Greenfield joined them within a year. A series of successful punk hits, then a more commercial yet unique sound during the eighties, The Stranglers became a regular not only in the charts, but also on the touring scene. Cornwell may have left in 1990, but not to be outdone, The Stranglers became one of the few bands, especially at that time, to replace their lead singer and carry on, employing Paul Roberts on vocals. Then Roberts left 13 years ago, but that was no stopping the boys, bring on guitarist Baz Warne. The incredible Jet Black, is still drumming away at 74, and now shares the role with Brum-born ‘youngster’ Jim Macauly. Macauly plays the first half the set, then Black, then a shared duty double drummers. Black will be appearing on this tour as long as there’s space for two kits.

Stage is darkened.  And on they come to the cheeky ‘Waltzinblack’ as the strip light backdrop to their set scrolls The Stranglers. The crowd cheer – their heroes are back in town. The set starts off – with bass beat and meandering synths its ‘Toiler in the Sea’ which goes down really well with the crowd, clearly chuffed to get their annual fix. The beat starts and we’re into ‘Grip’ – get singing –  “But the money’s no good – just get a grip on your self.…”  The Stranglers are indeed, on a mission tonight.

Warne: “Good evening night – wet, horrible fuckin’ night, thank you for coming… will you welcome on drums, from Birmingham, Jim Macauly.…” Macauly’s is giving it some; The Stranglers at their best are frenetic and are as they go into ‘Norfolk Coast.’

Now it’s ‘J.J.’ time – a plethora of songs where he takes the vocal lead. “J.B. [Jet Black] will be here in a moment…” Warne responds to an eager punter. And then it’s the classic bass riff that is ‘Peaches.’

And next up the mild mannered floating mid 80s hit about a subject we sorely need – ‘Always The Sun’ – the crowd chant back the chorus. Several songs are from this era tonight – including ‘European Female’ which seamlessly merges from ‘Midnight Summer Dream.’ And then at 10.20 the crowd cheer even louder as Jet Black takes the drums – “Jet Black… Jet Black… Jet Black…” chant the crowd, as he drums the intro and takes us into ‘Genetix.’

‘Golden Brown’ remains the beautiful warbling masterpiece with THAT melody that you just melt into, even now. Then we get ‘Skin Deep’ before ‘Nice n Sleazy’ with the dah dah dah and the wicked bass.

For the encore Burnel presents Warne with framed discs – it’s his 500th gig with the band tonight. ”Only been with The Stranglers 13 years… first time I’m speechless… really touched…”

“This is the Feel It Live Tour – can you feel it?” as Burnel strums his bass deeper and deeper ‘til it goes through the entire audience – quiet literally. “I fuckin’ can!” says Warne. “Thank you, you lovely people you enjoyed yourselves?” Before we get ‘Something Better Change’ followed by the classic ‘No More Heroes’. Quick break and final track ‘Tank’ with a cheery “Bye-bye” from Warne. Cracking 1 hour 50 set – full of energy – and my ears still buzz from Burnel’s bass – guess I’m still ‘Feeling It.’

The Stranglers are indeed one hell of a class act, J.J. probably one of the best bass players out there. And they are still uncompromising. And still clearly love what they do after all these years. And they roll on. After this UK tour, and a few dates in Europe, they’re off to North America for the first time in 15 years (so I’m guessing therefore this’ll be a first for Warne). Then back for festivals in York and down south.  Then winter will return and we can wait a little while. For the annual return of The Stranglers. Date is already in my diary lads….

********************************************

Setlist….

1. Intro – Waltzininblack

2. Toiler in the Sea

3. Goodbye Toulouse

4. (Get a) Grip (on Yourself)

5. Norfolk Coast

6. Time was Once on my Side

7. Thrown Away

8. Freedom is Insane

9. Mercury Rising

10. Peaches

11. Always the Sun

12. Relentless

13. Bring on the Nubiles

14. Duchess

15. Midnight Summer Dream

16. European Female

17. Genetix

18.Bitching

19. Golden Brown

20. Skin Deep

21. Nice n Sleazy

22. Who Wants the World

23. Straighten Out

Encore 1:

24. Something Better Change

25. No More Heroes

Encore 2:

26. Tank

********************************************

Listening:

Too many great albums to mention but because it reminds me of a moment in time and it includes ‘Always The Sun’…..

Dreamtime [1986]

********************************************

Review for Gig Junkies. Pictures: Ken Harrison.

Simple Minds @ 02 Academy Birmingham, 24th February 2012

Take yourself back in time, to the late seventies early 80’s, with Kraftwerk inspired dance electronica, with a hint of alternative post punk art rock, new romantic and big arena sound. Think dodgy haircuts, Bowie trousers and men in black eyeliner. Playing a set entirely devoted to tracks from their first five vinyl (remember that?) albums, Simple Minds are in town.

Formed way back in ’78, Simple Minds took an eclectic journey up to ‘82, from the dance classic cult  ‘I Travel’ right through the big sound of the ‘New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)’ album, with splashing of arena-filling 80’s hits. Success became stratospheric – by the mid/late eighties Simple Minds were huge, playing not just arenas, but stadia, almost comparable to the success achieved by U2. But for Simple Minds their commercial success diminished, not that has stopped them; they’ve continued to this day, both recording and playing live, and tonight here, in an intimate venue to celebrate with their loyal fans, they’re playing songs from first five albums as part of their 5x5Live tour.

The Simple Minds of today are made up of original members Jim Kerr (vocals) and Charlie Burchill (guitar/keyboards), Mel Gaynor (drummer – who’s been in the line up pretty much since ’82), Andy Gillespie (keyboards – ditto since 2002) and Ged Grimes (bass – newbie and formerly a founding member of Danny Wilson).  It being a Friday night at the 02 so it’s an early end (10pm curfew) so on at precisely 7.31pm – here we go….

The set is drenched in dry ice, blue beams of light shine throughout the venue and we start of with that cult dance floor track that is ‘I Travel’ in all it’s glory, to a rapturous applause from the audience. “Thank you Birmingham – thanks for coming along to see us.” It’s an early start for most the punters but within half an hour the Academy is pretty full.

Kerr still has his voice – he hits all the vocals, dancing in that staccato manner that has become his trademark. Tonight’s set is for die-hard fans – Kerr is a man of few words – tonight it’s about the nostalgia, a time warp, the music – dry ice and beams of lights effects cloud the stage throughout the night.

‘Love Song’ gets everyone singing, Kerr enthusiastically gets them clapping and there a huge cheer after the song. “That’s wonderful – thank you.” The following track is ‘Pleasantly Disturbed’, somewhat different for Simple Minds – take a listen and see if you think it was the inspiration behind the Reznor/ Manson ‘Sweet Dreams’ and clearly inspired at the time by The Velvet Underground.  One more track ‘Room’ and we have a 10-minute ‘interlude’ while we all catch our breath and catch-up with a few people – heya Adam!

Then they’re back on and we’re into ‘The American’ – Kerr: “We’re having a ball thank you – for the past thirty five years we’ve had a ball.” A few more tracks then into “Promised You a Miracle” – the crowd go “oooooooooooooooooooooooo” at the appropriate time; a few ‘bad 80’s dancing’. Then we have “Someone Somewhere in Summertime” – a 12” inch extended version (in old money so to speak.) The crowd is thoroughly enjoying themselves, the loyal fans loving it.

Time for another break and back on at 9.30 to instrumental dance track “Theme for Great Cities.” Then a couple of tracks and we get the start of what became rise to the big heights – masses of dry ice, bright yellow beam lights and we’re into “Glittering Prize’ followed up by “New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84)” a tubstomping rendition – the crowd all sing, Kerr slots into the vocals “In this room… I want to kiss you all….”, a drumming crescendo – one of the stand out tracks of the night.  The crowd bay for more – but it’s 9.55pm and curfew time – the house lights come on and all we walk out to Roxy Music’s ‘Let’s Stick Together…’

Simple Minds were huge in their hey day. Think like bands like Coldplay today – that’s the status that Simple Minds operated at. Maybe through the later decades they didn’t maintain quite that level – and the major hits were certainly mostly during the 80’s. But they’ve continued to play on, play live and record – tonight was a celebration of a long time ago – and gave the band opportunity to play tracks they must had mostly forgotten. This being the Academy, unfortunately the sound, once again, wasn’t brilliant – depending where you stood as to whether you got the full balanced sound, or where I was, an overriding blast of synth. But for true fans certainly an opportunity to see them close up and personal, performing songs they hadn’t done for years. And all certainly enjoyed it.

************

Setlist:

  1. I Travel
  2. Thirty Frames in a Second
  3. Today I Died Again
  4. Celebrate
  5. This Fear of Gods
  6. Life in A Day
  7. Hunter and the Hunted
  8. Premonition
  9. Wasteland
  10. Love Song
  11. Pleasantly Disturbed
  12. Room

[Break]

  1. The American
  2. In Trance As A Mission
  3. 70 Cities as Love Brings the Fall
  4. Calling Your Name
  5. Changeling
  6. Factory
  7. Scar
  8. Promised You A Miracle
  9. Someone Somewhere in Summertime

[Encore]

  1. Theme for Great Cities
  2. Someone
  3. Chelsea Girl
  4. Glitter Prize
  5. New Gold Dream (81-82-83-83)

*******************

Listening:

Life in a Day [1978]

Real to Real Cacophony [1979]

Empires and Dance [1980]

Sons and Fascination / Sister Feelings Call [1981]

New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) [1982]

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Reviewed for Birmingham Live!

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