Manic Street Preachers

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I first saw the Manic Street Preachers at Leeds’ Town and Country Club on their Holy Bible Tour. It was the last night of the tour and to the collective astonishment of the audience, they smashed all their gear up at the end of the gig.

No encore,largely because all the instruments were in bits but it was a real shock to me — I’d not seen anything like that before. It later transpired that troubled guitarist Richie Edwards went missing after the tour and was never seen again.

Over the years, I’ve seen them at festivals primarily, their star gradually fading as new bands emerged and as such they slipped down the billing. But they always delivered a committed and powerful set from their vast back catalogue.

So when I saw they were to perform their seminal album The Holy Bible, in full, I had to be there for that. In truth The Holy Bible is one of the most uncompromising and inaccessible albums I’ve ever heard. I’ve always found it difficult to listen to it for longer that 15 minutes, never mind from start to finish.

The Manics’ later work is more rounded and radio friendly and over the years I think they have become better songwriters and the odd album aside, have a back catalogue any band would kill for. Last year saw them release the introspective Rewind The Film, a bittersweet meditation on age, followed up by the bold electronica of this years’ Futurology.

Last night was a gig of two halves; first half a bold, successful, crowd-pleasing experiment playing the ultimate Manics album from start to finish, in the running order of the album. The old songs sounded almost fresher than when they were first played, the sound production and mix giving them a taut and defined new lease of life.

The second half was essentially a greatest hits set peppered with gems and new songs. The Manics have never been afraid to play whatever they fancied but they didn’t shirk their responsibility to play the big hits alongside instrumentals and even a cover of Wham’s Last Christmas.

Overall it was a stunning, mesmerising evening of music delivered by a band with a palpable sense of renewed passion.

‘Anyone who writes an autobiography is either a twat or broke’

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Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys

by Viv Albertine

I don’t read many biographies to be truthful. I don’t know why really. In the book club, biographies are frowned upon as a lesser form of writing, quite why I don’t know, it’s on of our many weird rules: no biographies. On the QT, I like a bit of historical bio action and in the past I’ve voraciously consumed weighty tomes on Churchill, Hitler, Julian Cope and Humphrey Bogart to name a few randoms. In truth I don’t remember much about them and perhaps that’s the curse of the biography: ephemeral in many ways.

So when I was handed a copy of Viv Albertine’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys I thought I’d slip it in between ‘serious’ book club books for a little light relief. The title comes from what her mum accurately surmised as her primary interests when she was younger, and sets the tone for a bright and honest journey from seventies London, being in a punk band and to be honest, an ordinary woman’s life with no holds barred. The opening chapter coverers in detail her lack of interest in masturbation this honesty sets the tone for the rest of the book.

The first half of the book is a solidly engaging and innocent romp through London seen through a teenager’s eyes: the beginning of punk, it’s magnesium-bright pinnacle and its inevitable fizzling out. As someone who was too young to catch the first wave of punk, this is a breathlessly enjoyable sequence that shines alight on the surprisingly random and quite frankly coincidental series of events that led to the watershed in music that was punk. Just after punk in the early eighties, we all imagined it was some kind of co-ordniated movement to dethrone the establishment, but it was just a bunch of disaffected kids who were in the right place at the right time—with wrong kind of attitude.

Viv’s voice is clear and distinctive. She confesses to the reader all manner of surprising feelings centred on inadequacy and fear which is refreshing when punk was all about conveying an attitude with a look. For her the veneer and sneer of sexualised punk was just that, a front but it gave her the permission to be different. But we’re in good hands with Viv throughout and she never fails to convince even when she makes some quite frankly crazy decisions. I can completely identify with the attitude that lead to her embrace punk is such a passionate way: we were post war kids and we were part of a new generation that felt the old ways had had it and it was in with the new. I even felt the reverberations of that in post punk—new wave took a sanitised version of punk and ran with it, leather keks and all.

The second half of the book is where it gets really interesting for me. After she leaves The Slits her life opens up in front of her and she realises that she has to do something with it. Her story then becomes one of education, families, relationships ending, illness and some successes. In short, the normal life of any woman. Viv is always true to herself though and the bravery (and innocence) that led her as a 14 year old to travel to Amsterdam and live in a squat manifests itself in all kinds of situations in her life. But she is always true to herself—eventually—whether it is music or relationships.

So this is no light relief biographical sideshow, it’s a moving and engaging story of an extraordinary life and an ordinary life, meshed together.

Manhugs in Wakefield on a Monday night

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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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Live at Leeds

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imageSo was Live at Leeds any good?

It’s been steadily growing over the past few years and for one reason or another, I’ve not actually attended. This year, I finally managed to get my ass in gear and get along to the musical takeover of Leeds.

First thing to note is that the venues are spread out. Although Leeds has a very compact city centre, there was only a handful of venues in walking distance of each other with the Brudenell Social Club ( my favourite venue in Leeds), the University and Leeds Met all a short cab ride or long walk away.

I don’t think this was a major issue but it did require careful planning if you wanted to see your favourite bands as logistics were an issue. We decided to stay pretty central with great venues like the cockpit, Leeds Trinity church, Milo and Wardrobe all hosting interesting, if obscure bands.

This approach would pay dividends, leaving our schedule in the flexible hands of the gods. I think at music festivals it is possible to plan too much – my experience is that is a schedule is rigorously followed then the serendipitous discovery of music is missed.

First up was xxx as Trinity church. A lovely venue this, where I’d previously seen BSP deliver a sublime performance, and it definitely produces a reverential atmosphere as one of the oldest churches in the city centre. Ethereal pop tunes wafted across the crowd and we decided that we should move on.

That’s another thing about music festivals: it’s all about the timing and unless the performer is smashing it, it’s always time to move on.

Next up was a random pick at Milo. The X Cat Trio billed themselves as ‘punk skiffle’ and someone said – perhaps it was me – its the yorkshire stray cats. This was enough for me and we crammed into what is probably one of the smallest venues I’ve ever been in. We found ourselves literally toe to toe with the band which was an exciting visceral experience. The trio bounced out rockabilly skiffle tunes for half an hour and it was the most fun I’ve had in a gig for a long time. It reminded me why I love live music and for me set Live at Leeds alight. Wonderful.

A short respite over Cocktails at Maven ( well worth a look if you get the chance) and we headed off to the Cockpit to see teenybopper combo The 1975. We were faced with near riot conditions outside the venue with a one in one out rule in operation, clearly this was a band people wanted to see. With our press wristbands we eventually managed to get in to a rammed cockpit. The 1975 are a perfectly serviceable pop rock band that we’ve seen plenty of times before and this seems to be the 2013 version. We left after a few songs so someone who wanted to see them could get in.

Time was marching on, but a gig goer marches on his stomach so we decamped to the Aagrah for a swift curry and catch up with friends. That’s the other thing to point out about LAL – you have to be the gig going equivalent of speedy Gonzales to get anywhere near seeing a lot of bands. The pace is frenzied and probably aimed at a younger, dedicated crowd.

As we tucked into lamb chops we shared experiences and planned our next gig. We opted for Leeds legend Mickey P Kerr at Milo. I’d first seen MPK at Leeds festival a few years ago on the unsigned stage and loved his eclectic mix of poetry (in the John Cooper Clarke vein), folk, rapping and hip hop. Upstairs at Milo was predictably rammed with folk who knew his stuff inside out and it was a cracking half hour with laugh out loud observations and gat tunes. Must go see him do a full gig next time.

It was getting late now and we were flagging so more cocktails ensued and our gigging ended when we met with fellow Globetroffers for a final drink or two. I wished that we’d seen more bands but the ones we did see were excellent and in their own way a perfect snapshot of Live at Leeds. It got me in the mood for live music in small venues and to that end it was massively successful and it was great to see the city centre thronged with music lovers albeit the worse for wear as the day wore on.

Live at Leeds is a fantastic key component to the cultural life of the city and I’d love to see it grow further. It captures beautifully what Leeds is about from the commercial to the quirky, from the up and coming to the unsigned…we have plenty of corporate music opportunity now the arena has finally landed but LAL provides a vital stepping stone in the musical life of Leeds.

Machineries of Joy

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I’ve written many times about British Sea Power on this blog and I make no apologies about how much I love their music.

April 2013 saw the release of their 6th studio album Machineries of Joy (if you count the controversial soundtrack-only Man of Aran, which I do) and after a two-year hiatus where the band has concentrated on trialling new material and hosting the eccentric Krankenhaus club nights in Brighton, the band are back on the road touring a new album.

The album has been lauded by the critics perhaps slightly more than usual with phrases like ‘coming of age’ and ‘good to have them back’ and whilst this is always a good sign, the audience will be the judge of that. It;’s fair to say that BSP plough their own persistent furrow, doggedly avoiding anything that can be vaguely described as commercial.

Although their anti-cash-making instincts may have eluded them with Machineries of Joy.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t Thriller. It’s not an album that they can retire to the South of France on, in fact I doubt if they will be able to retire to South London on it. But there is a more grown up acceptance of who they are and a lush production job makes up for their earlier sparsely produced affairs. There’s a great mix of stomping rockers and melodious, large format tunes that deliver the most satisfying album since Do You Like Rock Music? Time will tell if this album can deliver above that (and I think it can) but what I do know if the new songs are a revelation live and this is usually where BSP and their audience get to know the new album.

Last week was the Leeds Met UNi gig and this is a thrillingly small venue with enough space to get a decent audience in and I’ve seen a good few BSP gigs there. This time seemed different somehow – yes they delivered familiar crowd pleasers Remember Me, Carrion et al – but only after we’d been hypnotised for an hour with mesmerizing, melodic tunes. Usually I’d be getting agitated that everything wasn’t kicking off, but not this time.

It almost seemed like they’d slipped into another gear: happy to be delivering raucous rock anthems to the faithful but alongside these they seemed to have more faith in their ability to inhabit the expansive spaces of Machineries of Joy. BSP has always about the contradiction of orchestral and full tilt guitar but these have often been at odds with each other, requiring different sets or in some cases evenings. But something has changed somehow, a small but discernible shift in the band that could open doors for them.

I’m looking forward to seeing what might happen at this next stage…

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Many thanks to Carl Milner for the superb selection of images – more here

Ode to the iPod

When the iPod first landed on the scene it absolutely revolutionised music for me.

I’d fallen out with music a little bit – CDs just weren’t my thing, they seemed so soulless. So when a piece of technology arrived that could keep all of my music digitally in one place the size of a fag packet, I was all in.

Of course the technology raced on and subsequent iPods got smaller and thinner whilst their capacity got larger and larger. I can say hand on heart that the iPod and iTunes rekindled my love for music again, allowing me to have every single song in my library (once I’d painstakingly digitised the lot) at my fingertips. I have owned pretty much every generation of the iPod apart from the fiendishly priced original and revelled in the increased capacity of each version and the reduced prices too.

All of my musical consumption revolved around the ipod – I could have every single tune in my pocket when on holiday, I would plug in the Ipod to a dock and play it around the house. I sacked off my perfectly serviceable Denon hifi in favour of a reassuringly expensive Bose sound dock. The iPod drove technological innovation across the board for me and I thought it significant that it had its own section in my music magazine of choice, the now defunct The Word.

But technology marches relentlessly on and just as the iPod vanquished all in its path, progress will in turn kill it off in due course via The Cloud. I have, of course, embraced cloud based technology and all of my music now lives in the cloud so I can stream it all to multiple devices wherever I may be on whatever I like.

But I still love my iPod.

The tunes are physically on there and I like that. Oddly for me, I don’t need to have physical vinyl or discs, but the actual song files I’m quite happy with. I’m not sure if I’m comfortable just yet going 100% streaming, so I’ll be hanging on to my gradually outdated iPod as Apple don’t seem that keen on doing anything with it anymore.

But I think of it as a digital comfort blanket, always to hand, easily plugged in to a device, every tune I own, all in one place.