Saturday, 21 October 2017


The Green Door Store, Brighton, Sat 14th Oct

This co-headlined tribute to the late John Peel was put on by the good folks at Spinningchilli, who also took the photos.

I’d only seen the Nightingales once before, sometime back in the mid-Eighties, if memory serves on the same bill as Fuzzbox. And at the time found them arch and indie but largely nondescript. I’m not sure if I even knew then that frontman Robert Lloyd was a veteran of punk provocateurs the Prefects, or in those far-off days if I even knew of such. Others would bell me of times they’d seen the band do well, and I’d sagely inform them they were mistaken.

Now thirty years later I am to discover they’re a very fine band indeed! They still have that archness, cladding themselves in some very un-rock-and-roll smart and spangly jackets. And Lloyd namechecks, at at times seems to be channelling the crooning of Sinatra, while commenting on the music as it proceeds. At one point, after forewarning us of “a good bit”, he suggests the band go back and play it again.

But rather than anything indie they’re an exceptionally tight alternative rock band. The songs are played straight through, each jumping between quite different sections - to the point I soon give up trying to tell where one track ends and another begins, and just take the thing as a whole. Imagine a gig as a multi-sectioned sandwich, like a mega Scooby snack. With Lloyd’s voice often playing call-and-response with the more rockist cries of the drummer, the virtuous combination of opposites would seem to be the thing. 

After recent sightings of the reformed Cravats, they’ve now released their first new record in some forty years – the arena-baiting ‘Dustbin Of Sound’. Though originally operating in the punk era, I’m tempted to say they’re actually a psychedelic band who just do that black and white sort of psychedelic, before the world came into colour. Certainly they’re closer to ‘Arnold Layne’ than ‘White Riot’. Though the new release has flecks of… gasp!… colour on it’s sleeve, theirs is very much a black and white look, white shirts and black ties the order of the day.

Imagine a band which time travelled back to the mid-Sixties and peformed its amphetamine beat music and imaginary spy-fi soundtracks, but with the awareness of all that was coming. So everything they add - psychedelic weirdness, the edginess and grotesquerie of punk, the herky-jerky rhythms of post-punk – they don’t add so much as incorporate, as fold in. Everything they do, they do all at once. (They’d then need to be transported back in time again in order to have their album launch at the Green Door Store. I may not have that bit of the metaphor quite worked out yet.)

Except you’d also need to add in absurdist theatre and decadent cabaret, where cartoon menace mingles with that menacing kind of menace. Lyrics include the barked chorus “hang them, shoot them, electrocute them” and “I didn’t want things to end this way but I’m a liar”. Their psychedelia isn’t of strawberry fields or marmalade skies but of pylons, cows and blaring sirens – parochial Englishness estranged.

If the Nightingales were a layered Scooby snack, the Cravats would be a surrealist strain of sushi, the chance encounter of such divergent elements compressed inside a three-minute sonic shock. Hence I called them, after an earlier encounter, “the systematic deragement of the senses you can dance to”. We can only hope for further interruptions of normal service.

No live footage on yonder interweb so here’s t he video to single ’Jingo Bells’ (with a Hitchcockian cameo from Penny Rimbaud)…

Con Club, Lewes, Wed 18th Oct

Despite catching Japanese psychedelic outfit Acid Mothers Temple whenever and wherever I can, I had missed last year’s visit (glowingly reviewed in no less than the Guardian) 
as out of town.

And their gig before that had been a little too free form, a little too spacey for any gravitational pull to take hold. You want them to land on alien planets where the life, Jim, is not as we know it. But you do want them to land. Or perhaps the hour set was simply too short for such astral journeys. Regardless, it left appetites whetted rather than quashed.

This time they’re definitely putting the rock back into space rock, starting off with a squall of noise and never quite losing the driving beat. They even launch into the harmonica-led riff of Sabbath’s ’The Wizard’, the nearest I’ve seen them do to a cover. (Though the internet claims they’re also known to play ’War Pigs’.)

Though of course being AMT their nearest to a cover isn’t that close to a cover; they bend and twist it, sometimes reverting back to the original, before they’re done. Their ability to shift, transform and mutate feels like they can stay forever in a groove, while at the very same time explore new territory. An AMT setlist wouldn’t be a neat numbered page, but like one of those convoluted looping flow charts mad scientists scrawl on white boards in films.

It’s true, I am often to be found complaining too many bands merely ape past styles, and end up effectively as tribute acts with the reference numbers filed off. And unlike, say, Mugstar AMT very much approximate the look, hippie regalia for stage gear, vinyl in colourful gatefold sleeves filling the merch table. But they never treat psychedelic music as something known, a set of dance steps to be mastered. They’re not reproducing it but producing it, creating not more of the same but more.

And one example would be their ability to incorporate different styles. Heavy doses of both Krautrock and funk are blended in. At one point they break into an entirely unexpected bass and drum shuffle. The ever-active drummer in particular never seems to merely keep rock beats. Expect the unexpected. And still you’ll be surprised...

Usually I have to say ‘not from Brighton’ in this but this time, it’s not from Lewes…

Then a few days later, back on the Lewes-bound bus for...

Con Club, Lewes, Fri 20th Oct

The Hawklords were originally a 1978 incarnation of Hawkwind, after they’d somehow lost the rights to their own name. (I like to imagine a late night card game which went wrong, but suspect something more managerial.) However for nearly a decade now they’ve been operating in their own right. Though only keyboardist Harvey Bainbridge was in the original Hawklords, everybody bar bassist Tom Ashurst can claim some prior Hawkwind/Hawklords connection.

They play only a smattering of Hawkwind songs; having just released their new album ’Six’ (their… oh, you guessed) they mostly rely on their own material. But it’s mostly in the style of late Seventies Hawkwind - mid-tempo numbers with glacial synths and intonatory, often choral, vocals. A sound I have some fondness for, being the era I discovered Hawkwind. (My gateway albums being ’Live 79’ and ’Levitation’.)

And I like the idea of myriad offshoots, like all that Hawkwind touched turned to Hawkwind. In fact it being less polished, more rough around the edges than actual Hawkwind nowadays may even be a plus. It makes them more rock’n’roll, less alternative showbiz.

But there’s something of a dearth of the punchy songs Robert Calvert brought to the band. (Their best example being by Calvert, when they encore with the classic ‘Ejection’.) And there were a few too many spacey ambient sections, which came to feel too much like interludes. Plus, while it’s true Bainbridge sang lead on only a few numbers, his voice was not really strong enough to carry them. (They were perhaps hampered by sometime vocalist Ron Tree being absent.)

It’s perhaps not the point to try and compare them to the classic Hawkwind of the Seventies. And they may have suffered from being in the slipstream of the recent Acid Mothers Temple set. But I find myself more pleased they still exist than keen to see them again.

Also not from Lewes...

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