Manhugs in Wakefield on a Monday night

Simone-Felice

Monday night this week was gig night. I dusted off the gig jacket and we headed over to The Hop in Wakefield to see one of our favourite singers Simone Felice. I’ve written about him before as I’ve seen him live quite a few times, but this was a uniquely intimate gig at a very small venue.

The Hop is essentially a bar that hosts bands in their upper room, which I’m guessing will hold around 60 people comfortably and I reckon there were about 40 people there. This is quite a low attendance for Simone Felice as we’ve seen him easily fill the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, which is much larger. He was clearly in the mood for doing some low-key gigs and this was the opening night of his UK tour.

Simone sings from the heart with a passion and depth of feeling rarely seen in performers. He seems to dredge up every ounce of angst and joy and delivers it powerfully through every song he sings. How he keeps that level of intensity going night after night is beyond me – it must drain him of every ounce of energy. He leaves absolutely nothing on the stage after every performance.

This tour he is singing, unusually, with a bass and lead guitar player which lent a more muscular air to his songs which can be delicate and fragile, but this production gave every song a more amped up vibe and when Felice jumped on the drum kit we were firmly in rock and roll territory.

At the end of a moving and engaging set, Felice did his usual trick of stepping off the stage and into the crowd, seeking out everyone for a thank-you, handshake or as in my case, manhug. This is remarkable moment and very unusual in terms of gigs. How many live acts have you seen that make sure everyone is thanked as brother and sister? Of course we were suitably wowed enough to buy tickets for his next local gig in York on the 1st July.

Manhugs ahoy!

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From the sea to the land beyond

There’s not many bands that can completely rock out one minute and then play a sublime orchestral interlude the next, but British Sea Power are one of them.

Hot on the heels of their no holds barred Krankenhaus club night in Brighton, where every night was bonfire night, BSP appeared on the bill of the highly regarded documentary festival DocFest in Sheffield. They were playing their original score for director Penny Woolcock’s film From The Sea to the Land Beyond, a wonderful film using archive footage to capture Britain’s unique relationship with the sea.

From the remote Scottish Isles to nostalgic footage of seaside holidays, shipbuilding preparations for war, the brutal lifestyles of fishing folk to the majesty of the waves, this film really is a meditation on our coastline and how we have changed over the years – whilst the sea remains a constant to our island nation.

 

 

 

The archive black and white footage inevitably brings an honesty and integrity to the work with people filmed doing everyday things looking at the camera in a mysterious, odd way. It was struck that 100 years ago cameras were rare things where now we all carry one in our pocket in the form of a mobile phone. Interesting too how the more recent colour footage didn’t quite carry the gravitas of the early monochrome – I think I prefer my history in black and white.

From The Sea to the Land is a unique project commissioned by Sheffield DocFest and Crossover and this was definitely an evening to savour. The might and power of BSP’s music matched the epic maritime scenes whilst their tender and delicate compositions transformed everyday scenes into a moving tableau of British life.

 

Special mention to Carl Milner for his rather wonderful images from the performance.

Me and my big mouth

 

As we’re getting near the end of the year, I’m trying to round up a few stray posts that I thought you may have missed. This post recounts a rather memorable hour or two in the genteel surroundings of Ilkley’s Kings Hall.

After a lot of effort, I managed to blag a free ticket for the Ilkley Literature Festival to see John Cooper Clarke (in mitigation, I thought it was sold out). You may have seen a version of this post on Culture Vultures, but I’ve been thinking about The Bard of Salford a bit recently. And I’ve chuckled to myself about some of his lines, so I thought it worth a re-visit.

I first encountered JCC at Leeds University Refectory in 1979 as part of a punk poet triple bill which included Linton Kwesi Johnson and Benjamin Zephaniah (I think) and back then, he was at the forefront of shaking everything up: if musicians can tear up the musical rulebook, then why can’t writers and poets do the same? This ethos underpinned everything he did at the time and as far as I can tell, everything since then. It was a weird evening for a young art student from Bramley I can tell you, but it was the beginning of a journey for me.

These days, JCC’s work packs less of a punch because there is so much of this kind of writing out there being performed and it’s easy to forget what a visceral thrill his work was back in the late seventies and early eighties. We were easily shocked back then. JCC was the complete package: stick thin demeanor, sunglasses all the time, huge vocabulary of swearwords and an impeccable working class background from Salford.

I saw him live a couple of times and over the years, always loved his work but kind of lost touch with his newer work. When I saw that he was appearing at the Ilkley Literature Festival this year, I got it into my head that I had to go see him. After re-acquainting myself with some of his greatest hits, I headed across to Ilkley to see what’s become of him.

His act has developed from the relentless machine gun delivery of poetry of old into a more relaxed, conversational – almost stand-up comedy act. At first the slow pace of this is hard to get used to but his genuinely funny stories and one liners add light and shade to his act and do allow the poems to shine.

He’s as gloriously potty-mouthed as he always was and there was plenty for the Ilkley crowd to laugh about too. One particular location-based gag around the requirement to wear head-gear when visiting Ilkley Moor being ‘Otley Disputed went down a storm and we were in his hands from there on in.

Delivering only a handful of poems and lots of anecdotes, it seemed like this was a show that had been cut in half. The show started at 7.30, was finished with the encore by 8.45 and seemed to be just getting going – but that’s a small criticism. The old adage of leaving ‘em wanting more was never truer this evening.

When JCC did let rip with some of his well-known poems – ‘Hire Car’, ‘Beasley Street’ and the symmetrically superb ‘Beasley Boulevard’ he was really on form. A couple of new poems included a hilarious diatribe against U2’s frontman called ‘Bongo’s Trousers’ and a tickly chested ‘Guest List’ (JCC hadn’t been well, ladies and gentlemen, but he was here, for us all, laughing through the tears).

The performance was also being signed for deaf people and the signer on stage deserves an award for what has to the fastest signing I’ve ever seen. Although I couldn’t be sure that she was keeping up, it looked pretty sharp.

As the audience filed out, there were a lot of delighted faces, clearly not sure what to expect but very pleasantly surprised. Although I was captivated by the show, I would have liked to have seen more poems and I suspect that this was more about JCC getting caught out with the timings of an early, shorter show than anything else.

One reviewer recently insisted JCC had to decide whether he was a stand-up or a poet. I don’t agree. Both can work together if the balance is right. Although I would have dearly loved to see him perform ‘Kung Fu International’, ‘I married a monster from outer space’, ‘Evidently chickentown’ or even ‘Twat’, that gives me another reason to go see him again when he comes to Yorkshire again.

By the way, the title of this post refers to the first JCC album I ever bought on vinyl when I was at Jacob Kramer College of Art in Leeds. The album cover is at the top of the post and although a ‘compilation’ of sorts, it was truly an eye opener for me.

Ten reasons to LOVE Leeds Fest

1. Pulp

The standout band of the weekend for me. Jarvis and co rolled back the years and delivered a set of poise and wit that was unmatched across the entire weekend. It seemed like they’d never been away and closing the set with ‘Common People’ was pure genius. Oh, and Richard Hawley played with them too. Marvellous.

 

2. Endurance

It takes a lot of effort to get through a festival. Especially in the rain and the mud. Then there’s the lack of sleep, proper food and too much alcohol. At times it feels like an endurance test and by Sunday, there’s definitely less enthusiasm for the hardcore dance band in the Lockdown tent when you’re at the opposite end of the site. The wristband for the festival becomes a badge of honour, proudly worn and reluctantly discarded.

 

3. Madness

On a sunny Sunday afternoon after a relentlessly wet weekend, the nutty boys delivered a nostalgic set of danceable tunes that had us older types dancing like it was 1980 again. All the tunes were there and it was a joy to behold the befuddled faces of the teenagers around us – old folk, dancing? And what’s that crazy jogging dance they’re doing? Priceless.

 

4. Young bands with nothing to lose

These guys are usually to be found in the smaller tents in the early afternoon. They have nothing to lose and take their opportunity lustily to impress. There’s real joy in these performances and often there’s a knot of loyal fans at the barrier, singing along. It’s not often bands graduate from these stages to the main stages but when you do see it, it’s special. Special mention this year goes to The Computers with their all white attire and crowd-based singing.

 

5. Elbow

Is there a better band to draw the afternoon to a close the afternoon and herald in the headliner? I don’t think so. Elbow is the consummate festival band – warm and considerate, worried that the audience might be too cold and wet and getting the crowd engaged. It was a shame it wasn’t a beautiful evening as that would have been a perfect combination: sunset and Elbow.

 

6. Disappointing headliners

I’ve lost count over the years how many headline acts have been disappointing. Other than Pulp, it was the same again this year. I think it must be me but the headliners just don’t excite the way that the smaller acts do in the more intimate stages. It’s a really difficult task pulling off a headline spot at any Festival and especially at Leeds where it’s usually cold, windy and wet.

 

7. Festival Goers

Going about their business in the most extreme of circumstances and always a smile on the face. Admittedly this is usually assisted in some way by alcohol or other substances, but nonetheless they’re a rare breed in this day and age. If it’s not trench foot, it’s sunstroke and if it’s not frostbite, it’s windburn – and that’s just on the Friday. And on top of all that, there’s the state of the toilets.

 

8. Organisers

I happen to believe that Leeds is a particularly well-organised festival. Admittedly in the early days they had their teething problems, but they seem to have ironed all of this out and it is pretty good. The staff are friendly and helpful in the gruff Yorkshire fashion and everything from the signposting to helping people to put up their tents points to good recruitment and training.

 

9. Ridiculous band names

This year’s winner: Cerebral Ballzy

 

10. The first hot shower when you get home

Some people choose to shower at the festival, patiently queuing with a towel and wash bag for hours on end. Not me. I like to get the full festival experience by building up the outdoor grime over three days to wash it all away with a piping hot shower. Delicious.

Old enough to know better, but…

It’s that time of year again.

The fag end of summer where all the great sunshiny things seem far behind us and early summer is a lifetime away. For me, the end of summer is always signposted by Leeds Festival and it’s one of the highlights of the year.

I’ve been going to Leeds since it started and before that, the one off Virgin Festival and before that, Roundhay park one dayers. When the kids were little we’d do a day at the festival and then head off home and as they got older and more adventurous, we’d camp. Our weekend without mum (who couldn’t bring herself to brave the toilets and who would blame her) has grown into a dad, kids and mates weekend that is so much fun.

Anyway, I thought I’d preview this year’s festival because a) if you’re going it might be vaguely useful and b) if you’re not attending you may derive some vicarious pleasure from my ludicrous enthusiasm.

I believe one of the basic principles of music festivals is that the festival is never about the main stages, it’s about the small tents where the joy of discovery is to be had. I discovered my favourite band British Sea Power this way, so it’s copper-bottomed as far as I’m concerned.

This year the headliners look a little dull: Muse, who I’m sure will deliver bombastic rock nonsense, will definitely be worth a look; My Chemical Romance will have teenage girls 760 deep at the front will be deeply tedious and finally joint headliners Pulp and The Strokes will be definitely worth a dibble especially given the last time I saw Jarvis et al was about 15 years ago.

Other highlights in no particular order have to be:

Elbow – bloke rock for men of a certain age, choking back the beer fuelled emotion.

Frank Turner – singer songwriter protest rock a la Billy Bragg.

Anna Calvi – fresh and arresting female vocalist.

Madness – sure to be the hit fuelled pinnacle of Sunday.

Discopolis – bright new indie things.

The National – lulling audiences into a false sense of security.

Seasick Steve – delivering his loveable hobo schtick for the umpteenth time.

Leeds’ own Pigeons – local heroes railing agains the fading light.

Finally it’s impossible to resist the throbbing dance tunes of Simian Mobile Disco.

Plus there’s lots, lots more.

One of the beauties of a festival like this is that there’s loads of new stuff I’ve never heard of. Thankfully I’m of an age where it’s not my job anymore to seek out new talent – I leave that to the young folk. But it IS my job to enjoy the full on punk, the laid back trance, the jangling indie and the awesome new thing that’s going to shake it all up.

But every year I have to remind myself that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

Leeds Festival rewards the careful festival goer – go at it too hard on Friday and Sunday can be just too much like hard work. It’s hard not to give it all a good bash…but what is interesting someone said to me today that festivals turn them in to ADD freaks and it’s true: if a band fails to nail your attention then we’re off in search of something else. The bands that deliver the ultimate festival set are the ones that keep the crowds – it’s an art, that’s all I can tell you.

As I write this I’m getting a little bit giddy with excitement and there’s not many things that do that these days.

Jodrell Bank Live

 

 

Jodrell Bank Live is the very first live outdoor gig set amidst the Jodrell bank Observatory  in leafy Cheshire about 20 miles from Manchester.

The jewel in the crown of this centre for studying deep space pulsar activity is the humongous Lovell telescope, the third largest steerable telescope in the world. And what a sight it is.

Hearing that British Sea Power were supporting Flaming Lips, I simply had to chalk this one up as another odd venue to see what I think is probably the best band in Britain today (BSP, not FL). Having talked about BSP on numerous occasions, there’s not much point in discussing them further in this post, but I simply had to share some of the stunning images from the evening courtesy of the Jodrell Bank Live website.

To be honest although the venue and the bands were awesome, the organisation left a lot to be desired with not enough toilets, inadequate food provision and a quite frankly laughable car park set up. I realise this is the first year and accept there’s room for improvement but for me it spoiled the wonderful evening in the sunshine.

We missed Flaming Lips and opted to scarper before the car park imploded after the headliners and were quite pleased with ourselves as we hared back across the M62 but looking at dome of the later images, we missed out I think. Fab to see BSP resurrecting Ursa major (the bear) and Paul the roadie dressed up as a ‘futuristic’ tin foil robot with plastic plates for breasts. Another  nice touch from them was to enter the stage to fifties classic Telstar.

All in all a fabulous evening of firsts for me only slightly tarnished by the poor organisation on the day.

 

 

My famous missionary zeal

I’ve had this line bouncing around my head since I saw the incredible Simone Felice perform on his live acoustic tour at the Brudenell Social Club in Leeds last week.

I’ve written about Simone before and I just couldn’t not write about seeing him again – he is simply one of the most mesmerising and hypnotic performers. The Guardian hit it right on the head when they said:

“These are songs of memory and regret, of reminiscence and desire, songs that reflect on love and childhood and Americanness and, more than anything, on time passing… each song somehow sounds like a classic, each live performance suggesting we are in the presence of a rare, fiery brilliance.”

Unlike the previous performances when he was with his ‘full’ band Duke & The King, this was the man himself and a couple of musicians delivering pared back and powerful renditions of old and new songs. The wonderfully lo-fi surroundings of the Brudenell completed the picture and made for a memorable and engaging performance, each song deeply etched with passion and belief, the battle-scarred singer delivering emotional punch with every song.

It was one of those gigs where the songs fly by and before you know it, the performers are leaving for the stage only to return for the encore. Beautiful.

I also bought a preview copy of Simone’s new book too, it’s called Black Jesus.

According to the book jacket its ‘Part love story, part protest at the broken promises lying at the heart of the American Dream. A passionate, twisted hymn to the marginalised and forgotten’

I liked the sound of that.

http://simonefelice.com