Saturday 28 April 2018


Brighton Dome, Tues 24th April

Roughly two and a half years after I last saw Gomez, they’re back. This time playing their first album, 1998’s ’Bring it On’. An album whose release is further proof that no-one should ever listen to me. If I’d been told beforehand that a bunch of white, middle class kids from Southport were going to make rootsy Americana I’d definitely have told them to put a halt to it. And when it came out lyrics about “Tijuana Ladies” meeting “mariachi desperadoes” slipped into trips to Manchester to play football, like this was a disguise which wouldn’t stay on.

Which is perhaps a widening problem. Too much music so self-consciously apes a style, it sounds like it’s being played through those white gloves they use on the TV to hold priceless relics. Which doesn’t keep that music alive, just undead. And that approach extended from folk and roots to all music’s branches, like some inexorable disease.

And yet in Gomez’s case the result is such a great album I could put aside my normal dislike of gigs which run through records in track order. Perhaps, with three songwriters in the band, it never sounds particularly restrictive – it’s not an album which sounds like one album. As Alexis Petridis said in the Guardian: “The music flits about, as if trying to cram the band members’ entire record collections into a single album: grinding guitar noise, primitive drum machines, psych-y vocal interludes, blues riffs, shambling funk rhythms.”

And perhaps genuinely timeless music simply reprises easily. The band sing themselves at one point “Why do you keep running around like that/ Sit back 'cause this is gonna take a while? There's no shame in going out of style”.

’Bring it On’ went on to win the Mercury prize, and seems to be one of those albums which cemented itself into the popular consciousness. Which may mean, at least in terms of public interest, the band peaked at the very start. Not only are they playing a bigger venue than last time, this and most subsequent gigs of the tour are sold out. And in fact when I go home and check my CDs, the three Gomez albums I possess are the first three. I guess that’s proof of the pudding.

Not a recent gig but the album’s opener…

The Hope + Ruin, Brighton, Sat 21st April

Frontman of the Adverts, and later the Explorers, punk stalwart TV Smith has in recent years taken to playing solo gigs armed only with an acoustic guitar. 

Which would be fine, there’s no need to treat punk as a fixed style. Nor does everything played acoustically need to sound like Nick Drake. However, he’s still writing strident, anthemic punk songs as if he just happened to forget the band and amplification, and decided to go ahead anyway. It’s true the change has come about through necessity, he’s openly said he simply wasn’t earning enough to feed a whole band. But then necessity is often the mother of invention. By, you know, necessity.

All of which is compounded by his continuing adherence to punk dress, and mildly bizarre insistence on continuing to strike rock guitar poses. Truth be told, when I saw him some years ago with the (briefly reunited) Adverts it worked a whole lot better.

From York…

Coming soon! An anniversary...

Saturday 21 April 2018


The Barbican, London, Sat 14th April

After seeing the Thurston Moore Group in Hove last year, I was most taken by the longer, slower, self-weaving pieces. Not least because they took things the furthest from the Sonic Youth days. (Who were great, of course. But all the more reason not to want their blundering zombie corpse.) But mostly because, as I put it at the time, they were “expanding beyond the usual range of guitar rock.” And in fact, listening to the ’Rock ‘n’ Roll Consciousness’ album, I’ve found it’s the longest track, the extendedopeningof’Exalted’ which is the most memorable.

And this gig in many ways picks up from there, ditching the group format altogether for a line-up of twelve twelve-string guitars. For the first half, titled ’Earth’, they playedacoustically.The accompanying film-show mostly featured abiogenesis (shooting, sprouting, blooming and the like), but the appeal of the music was that it wasn’t linear in the same fashion. With’Exalted’there’s an inevitability that it willbuild up into something, the guitars willget louder, the vocals willkick in.

Here, things could take their own course, with less emphasis on an overall structure and more on each passing moment. With just one instrument, albeit multiplied by twelve, sonic range was limited. And changes happened slowly, often passing across players like fronts in aweather system. (Changes communicated by numbers from a held-up notepad, suggesting a modular system of composition.) Which meant you needed to listen more closely than at a rock gig. But once you got there it was mesmerising.

’Sky’, was for a similar number of electric guitars. But anyone expecting the sight of jack plugs and amps meant a return for more familiar territory would have been confounded. It had one of the most “have they started yet” starts I’ve experienced in some while. I think they started at… you know, the start but suffice to say it took its own time to build up.

For the first half of the piece not a chord was played as strings were plucked by multiple fingers, struck with sticks, scraped and screwdrivered. It produced the most ethereal of sounds, where sight unseen whole sequences would never have seemed the work of guitars.

It then slowly built up into a melodic pattern something like pealing bells, before some of your actual guitar riffing finally emerged. As this grew more and more powerful I assumed this time things would end on a crescendo. But instead, in time-honoured fashion, twelve guitars were turned against twelve amps. Rather than the squalls of feedback, this produced a rather aum-like hum. From there the piece took a palindromic structure, passing through an abbreviated form of the earlier sections before diminishing to nothing.

Which is, I think, significant. Despite what the title might suggest, itwasn’t really about blasting off. It more took life in the weightless expanse of space, getting drawn into a gravitational field but then floating free of it.

Moore’s far-out comments in the programme first seemed a bit hippy-dippy, yet in retrospect they seemed almost earned. While the two pieces hit my senses as something fresh and new, at the same time theyseemed on a trajectory that made sense to me. It’s not the Eighties any more, and we don’t need to stay stuck in them. My musical tastes have widened over the years, and the rock track no longer has primacy. So the people I was listening to in the Eighties, particularly those who were even them pushing against the limits of the rock track, why shouldn’t they be moving forwards in the same way?

Theseclipsmay not stay up for long, knowing the Barbican…

Con Club, Lewes, Thurs 12th April

The Mekons had the short and volatile history you’d expect from a punk band formed in 1977. Their first single was rejected for distribution by Rough Trade, haven of the DIY sound, for sounding too DIY. Until the NME made it Single of the Week, and the decision was soon reversed. They then signed to Virgin records, from where they were unceremoniously dropped after one album. But now, as we’ve come to expect from this sort of thing, they’re back.

Except nothing is so straightforward here. The band actually reformed in ‘84, originally as a means to perform benefits for the striking Miners. But a move to America heralded a new rootsy sound, claimed by some to have invented alternative country. And they’ve been going ever since, with me seeing them in London last year. So the original Mekons have become a second head, hence that ‘77’ suffix.

The difference in the sounds is accentuated by that London gig being an acoustic performance in a Church, and by for this gig band member Jon Langford supporting with the Four Lost Souls – who are in sound the New Mekons in a more stripped-down format. Alas for some perverse reason they played support to the support band, so I missed the start of their set. Still, I did hear the one about the Gospel star staging a comeback despite death.

And the difference was accentuated again by only two members being common to old and new versions, Langford and Tom Greenhalgh. And Langford then abandoned his pole position for the drum stool, for all but one number. Many rivers have been crossed since 1977, and the two lead singers now bear a striking resemblance to Morecambe and Wise. To the point where I wondered if one would do an encore without telling the other.

Which actually became kind of fitting. If they were a political band, with the opening number only semi-jokingly introduced as a Marxist critique of economics, they were also possessed of an absurdist sense of humour. Songs can be about fighting the cuts one minute (still relevant, as they ruefully point out) and Dan Dare in space the next.

Musically things ranged from three-chord jabs to longer, darker, more expressionist pieces. It’s similar to the way old hippie bands such as Gong would alternate between short, sharp numbers and spacey jams, the variation accentuating the unique taste of each. Not au fait with the early Mekons I don’t know if the longer numbers came slightly later, or are even still to come. (Some tracks are recently written, and a Mekons 77 album is “anticipated”.)

Both Leeds-based bands, back in the day the Mekons were fellow travellers with Gang of Four. And if they sound quiet different they have a similar advantage. In retrospect the problem with punk wasn’t so much the often cartoony politics as the way the insurrectionary rhetoric soon became kind of reassuring. (People gonna rise up? I’ll watch out for that.) It was a problem which started with the Clash, and reached it’s risible nadir with the likes of Conflict. Whereas the Mekons were always simply too awkward for that.

As the Four Lost Souls stopped to tune their two guitars, one of the singers commented she preferred music which allowed her to go “left of tune”. Later, the assembled Mekons echoed the sentiment, figuring a left-of-tune sound went with left politics. Amen to that.

Their second single,’Where Were You?’...

Friday 13 April 2018


...though, as said last time, this may be the last load for this location. (However, more graffiti pics from other parts of Brighton to come.) As ever, full set over on 500px....

Saturday 7 April 2018


Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Falmer, Brighton, Thurs 29th March

Onetime member of acerbic electronica post-punks Cabaret Voltaire, Chris Watson has embarked on a solo career you could never have predicted but still seems entirely fitting. He captures the sounds for David Attenborough and other nature docs, while releasing his field recordings in his own right. (If anyone from Kajagoogoo is now doing something so cool, I wait to be told about it.) He’s now providing a “spatialised audio journey of the imagination”, where you hear one of his sound art creations in sensurround. (And still on until Sunday the 8th!)

Sight seems very much the dominants sense in our culture, we casually use phrases such as “I see what you mean”. Sound is very often reduced to signifiers – car horns, alarms, you’ve got mail – the merely incidental or even the intrusive. The sound of the town gets treated as just noise pollution, which means we conceive of nature as effective silence, the “peace and quiet” of the countryside.

But consign sound to the edge and it becomes associated with that edge, with the liminal and uncanny. Soundtracks become more significant for horror or science fiction flicks than any other kind of film, more necessary for the atmosphere they’re evoking. Cabaret Voltaire, I’m afraid, are another subject I know little of. But what I’ve heard doesn't depart from post-punk’s Dadaism, a wrench thrown in the mechanism of music. Whereas his field recordings are more similar to Surrealism, which treated art as a springboard for a voyage of personal discovery. Surrealists were always collecting found objects, such as strangely shaped pebbles, for that reason.

The event’s title effectively references all that. As we sat or lay in the centre of a near-dark room surrounded by speakers, it became almost like that scene in jungle films, where the white expeditionary force sit around the campfire, hearing the strange cries all around them.

Smartly, Watson starts his sound journey on Brighton beach, where it’s easy enough to attach images to the sounds (I can never feel too far from home if I can hear a seagull.) But he soon dispenses with those handy tags and departs for shores unknown. The blurb explains the journey “takes the listener from the edge of Brighton’s beach and out with the ebbing tide… on a trackless voyage around the planet from the ocean floor.” Which I’d read but happily then forgotten, so discovered in real time that this trip would be taking us beneath the waves.

Someone watching our reaction, with most people sprawled out on the floor, might have thought this was no more than a bliss-out exercise, a sonic massage. But it actuality illustrated the distinction between atmospheric and evocative. Even though I knew Watson’s only contribution to the sounds was to edit them, it was impossible not to hear what happened as a composition. While, much as you listen to music more closely when the words are taken away, there in the dark you listened to the strange sounds quite intently indeed. (And in their own right. A sign on the wall chronologically listed the sources, but I think most attendees didn’t consult it until afterwards.)

I’d watched a section of a filmed conversation between Watson and Attenborough before the show, and by chance they’d talked about the effect of sound on the pre-born. And aquatic sounds similarly seem to trigger some buried memory of womb states, with the sounds you hear simultaneously entirely unfamiliar and comforting.

Music… sound art, whichever you prefer to call it… always seems at its most effective when it doesn’t just change the way you hear music but they way you hear the world around you. And waiting before the bus home by the busy A23, I realised I was hearing the whirr of each passing car as a phased note in some industrial symphony. Once you’re tuned in, it takes a lot longer to tune out...

Watson interviewed by the irrepressible Graham Duff on Totally Radio here.

From an earlier, different version of ’No Man’s Land’...

The Haunt, Brighton, Sun 25th March

Alas, fate may have pinned A Certain Ratio to the mast of a misjudged but brief fashion statement. In the (unashamedly mythologised) history of the Factory records scene, ’24 Hour Party People’, their only appearance is in order for them to sport some khaki shorts on stage. Notably, they’re not in such attire today.

Let’s jump to the first encore track. A slow, sparse keyboard motif launched the number, which was then not replaced by but combined with a frenetic, pummelling groove. Notably, the main singer has the same dry, intonatory tones of New Order’s Bernie Sumner. While the second main singer (well, she’s more than a backing vocalist) emits rich, soulful tones. And when the band are working is when they manage to make those two things interlock.

Which may sound like a euphemistic way of saying we’re dealing with a mixed-race band. Something which surely shouldn’t be worthy of comment in this day and age. But there is more to it than that. Formed back in ‘77, ACR are generally thought of as part of the post-punk scene. A feature of which was white folks being influenced by contemporary black music in ways which wasn’t merely imitative, after seeing earlier imitations which had ended up as watered down and second rate.

Hence we have a white-boy, suit-and-tie take on funk, dubbed “funk noir” by Simon Reynolds. It’s restrained to the point of being clipped. The band’s name even comes from a Brian Eno lyric. The clarinetist, for example, plays not at all for much of the time. And when he does play he doesn’t play much, the briefest snatches, like he’s constantly thinking where and when to make his mark. But this white-boy funk, soon as invented, is recombined with the get-down world of black funk, cool colliding with cold. If it was a foodstuff it would be a sweet’n’sour.

But often the two don’t align so much as merge, and then they get along together too well. Which ends up as... well, a funk band. A very good funk band, admittedly, but one which hints at so much more. There’s no let up in quality to speak of, but there is one in originality.

It might seem a peculiarity of music history that ACR were one of the most prescient of post-punk bands, yet not one of the best remembered. (The Haunt’s packed out, but confined to us oldsters.) They were channelling a black American influence before New Order, despite both being Factory acts. They were serving up dance music via a band format some way before the Happy Mondays. Yet while I’ve quoted Simon Reynolds’ post-punk account ’Rip It Up And Start Again’ up above, he only really mentions them in passing.

But the answer may lie less in the ill-judged shorts than in a rephrasing of the question. The point of post-punk was to be awkward, to resist categorisation, to repel pigeon-holing, to become nail that couldn’t be hammered flat into the face of musical history. There remains to this day something inscrutable about the Fall and Joy Division, which makes them endlessly fascinating. Whereas ACR worked too well, too neatly.

Or perhaps the problem’s time. I’m woefully ignorant of the band’s history, but the thought occurs they may have sorted themselves into more of a regular funk band as time went on, their edge progressively blunted. Perhaps significantly, their first release, ’The Graveyard and the Ballroom’ was divided into ’Graveyard’ and ’Ballroom’ sides, yin opposing yang yet becoming it. Those more knowledgeable than me are welcome to comment...

Not from Brighton, despite the date YouTube gives it…

Con Club, Lewes, Sun 1st April

Almost a year after last landing in Lewes, 
the longstanding space jazz ensemble return, still honouring the memory of their now departed main main.

“If we came from nowhere here, why can’t go somewhere there?” runs one of their manta-like lyrics. And over the course of a nigh-on two-and-a-half hour set, they take in nowhere here (somewhat standard loungey jazz), somewhere there (places you’d neither been nor knew existed), all points between and – perhaps most bizarrely – both at once. It frequently felt like attending a cocktail party on Mars.

Not only that, but the whole gig seems programmed on shuffle, leaving you with no idea what would happen next, or where you’d find it on the scale between banal and sublime. There were sections I essentially took as the intermission between the features. But at other points I even found myself adapting to relay soloing, something I normally find anathema.

It’s actually less maddening than that description might make it seem, not least because of the ensemble’s cheery assurance that there’s a method somewhere in all their madness. As said last time “it's not chin-stroking music to chew on, it's joyous, exuberant and energising. If it doesn't quite teleport you to Saturn you can almost feel your feet lifting from the ground.” Band leader Marshall Allan, despite now being in his Nineties, really does lead, directing the ensemble and joining in himself. In their brightly coloured costumes, they even come across like some cosmic form of showbiz. Ensemble members leap into the audience from time to time, still playing, encouraging us to sing along.

In fact so strangely random was the set that with the two stand-out tracks, each came not as an opener or finale but at the mid-point in each of the two sets. One sung of angels and demons, and I would be hard pressed to describe it now. While the other was their anthem, ’Space Is the Place’. Except entirely different. 

In today’s bids for pseuds’ corner, imagine the recorded version as like being in the midst of sub-atomic particles, fragments ceaselessly turning and orbiting one another, according to some system clearly operating yet whose workings were inscrutable to you. While this version was based on a pulse. Over which the brass would at times line up and blast in unison, like birds along a telephone wire, and at others fly off in flurries.

Coming soon! Gig-going adventures will come again...