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live gig review

Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam at Union Chapel, London 3/3/17

I must confess that my introduction to the music of seminal psychedelic-tinged band Traffic was via the cover of Hole In My Shoe by Neil out of The Young Ones (Nigel Planer) in 1984. The end of the sixties was then only 15 years previously but, culturally, it seemed like a million years away. While everyone in my year at sixth form found Hole In My Shoe utterly hilarious, it did tempt me into finding out more about the original and taping a copy of a ‘Best of Traffic’ compilation LP that I borrowed from Preston Record Library.  On the album I found not only the original, still very quirky, Hole In My Shoe but a load of other treasures: Dear Mr Fantasy, Medicated Goo, 40,000 Headmen and more.

Traffic split in 1975 and Dave Mason had already left several years before. However, having enjoyed seeing Traffic’s Steve Winwood in 2013 I jumped at the chance to see Mason when his Traffic Jam tour-dates were announced – his first UK tour since the seventies he tells us tonight.

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It’s the aforementioned Mr Winwood who is most closely associated with Traffic’s legacy in Britain these days, so it’s really welcome to see Dave Mason publicly celebrating the part he played in this iconic band. The first part of the set focuses on the Traffic era, including 40,000 Headmen, Medicated Goo, Dear Mr Fantasy and Feelin’ Alright. After a short break the second half of the show focuses on both Mason’s post-Traffic career but also his influences that inspired him to get into the music in the first place, with a pounding, soaring tribute to Hank Marvin in the shape of a cover of The Shadows’ Apache. Another tribute was to Jimi Hendrix, with a stunning version of All Along The Watchtower (the Dylan song that Hendrix made his own and which Mason played acoustic guitar on.)

Mason’s voice is in fine form and he gives us some outstanding lead guitar throughout the set but special praise should also go to his keyboard player, Tony Patler, who provides some perfectly evocative Hammond tonight, as well as some really rich, bluesy vocals. My only minor complaint was about the impact of the building’s acoustics. Union Chapel can be a wonderfully iconic venue but, sitting near the back, I did find the echo of the drums a bit clattery and overwhelming in this cavernous Victorian chapel at times. However, having purchased his current ‘Traffic Jam’ album, recorded live at the New York City Winery (which Mason later signed for me) I am pleased to report a much superior sound mix and can really enjoy the contributions of all four musicians.

And what of Hole In My Shoe, Mason’s quirky sitar-based hit that led me to discovering Traffic in the first place? He hasn’t played it in years and hasn’t touched a sitar in years either, mainly because he would struggle to get down on the floor to play it these days he tells us…

Sitar or no sitar, it was a great performance tonight and it’s good to see Dave Mason rightfully staking his claim in the Traffic legacy in his home country once again.

Setlist:

40,000 Headmen (Traffic)
Pearly Queen (Traffic)
Medicated Goo (Traffic)
The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (Traffic)
Rock and Roll Stew (Traffic)
Dear Mr. Fantasy (Traffic)
Feelin’ Alright (Traffic)

< INTERVAL >

World in Changes (from ‘Alone Together’)
We Just Disagree (from ‘Let It Flow’)
Look at You Look at Me (from ‘Alone Together’)
Apache (Shadows cover)
Good 2 U (from ’26 Letters 12 Notes’)
Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave (from ‘Alone Together’)
All Along the Watchtower (Jimi Hendrix/Bob Dylan cover)
Only You Know and I Know (from ‘Alone Together’)

http://www.davemasonmusic.com/home

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Dodgy at The Carlisle, Hastings (Fat Tuesday headliners 28/2/17)

“Are you sure this is actually England? Are you in the Euro-zone here?” asks Dodgy front-man, Nigel Clark, as he surveys the Fat Tuesday crowd in The Carlisle pub on Hastings seafront for their third gig of the evening.

Indeed, there is something unique about Hastings as far as music is concerned, and not something most of us would expect to find in England. In my quarter of a century being based in London I had the joy of attending some very memorable gigs. But never could I stroll along to my local and expect to find a top-ranking act from the Britpop era performing a gig in the pub – and for free!

Now in it’s ninth year, Hastings Fat Tuesday ( a long weekend of endless gigs and celebrations) has been been building a formidable reputation. The grand finale night, Fat Tuesday itself, saw 24 bands play 3 gigs each across 12 different venues venues. Unfortunate timetabling on my part, before I’d got fully acclimatised to Hastings’ seemingly never-ending calendar of events, meant I had a long-standing engagement doing a talk at the White Rock Hotel on the same evening. But as soon as I was finished I was able to hotfoot it down the road to see Dodgy do their third and final performance of the evening.

Always a welcome part of the 90s Britpop scene when guitar-based, accessible tunes were back in vogue and back in the charts, Dodgy made some catchy, memorable, era-defining songs. Having reformed a decade ago, they were clearly loving being part of Hastings Fat Tuesday. And the crowd were clearly loving having them there, too. It might have been a freezing cold February 2017 outside. But inside the Carlisle, with the late thirty-somethings and forty-somethings dancing away as the likes of Staying Out For The Summer, So Let Me Go Far and Good Enough rang out, the sun was beating down and it was Glastonbury 1997 all over again.

Dodgy, it’s good to have you back and it was good to have you around for Fat Tuesday.

http://www.dodgyology.com/

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Daria Kulesh at Cecil Sharp House 23/2/17 (Album launch: ‘Long Lost Home’)

Folk singer Daria Kulesh, Russian-born but British-based, has not chosen an easy subject matter for her newly-released solo album Long Lost Home, which is being formally launched at Cecil Sharp House tonight. But it’s an absolutely fascinating one and, as we find throughout the performance of all twelve songs from the album tonight, it is also a deeply moving one.

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Long Lost Home tells the story of Ingushetia (or the Ingush Republic). It is now a republic within the Russian Federation, bordering Chechnya, but it’s one with a dark and tragic history. On 23 February 1944 (exactly 73 years ago from tonight’s performance) Ingush civilians were falsely accused of collaborating with the Nazis and the entire population were either deported or shot under the orders of Stalin. Ingushetia was the lost homeland of Kurlesh’s maternal grandmother. And it was through her grandmother that Kulesh was to learn so much of her ancestral home and the tragedies within it but also the everyday lives and loves of some of her ancestors, a number of whom are brought movingly to life once more in Kulesh’s songs.

Possessing a beautiful clear voice that is both powerful and pure, Kulesh is immediately able to connect emotionally with her audience as the lives of the characters in her songs unfold. Musically, she’s supported by a fine cast of musicians, both on the album and on stage. Kulesh herself plays the shruti box (Indian drone instrument) but we also have a rich tapestry of sounds from traditional Russian/Kulesh stringed instruments through to the dulcimer and the double bass and even, for one song, the Scottish bagpipes.

Yes, much of the subject matter has a darkness to it. However, as Kulesh herself emphasises there’s also a spirit of hope and humanity and kindness to these songs. The last song of the album Only Begun ends on a very optimistic note. It’s not quite the end though. Kulesh and her colleagues are called back on stage for an encore. As an added bonus, Timur Dzeytov, a traditional Ingush musician who accompanies Kulesh on the album and here tonight, also plays a couple of Ingush dance numbers, complete with some impromptu Ingush dancing, to round off the launch of Long Lost Home.

Daria Kulesh can be proud of what she’s achieved here, both through her very unique contribution to the UK folk scene and through this perfectly fitting and timely celebration of Ingush culture and history.

http://www.daria-kulesh.co.uk/

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Black Sabbath at the O2 31/1/17

How do you end the most iconic heavy metal band of all time?

At one point, a couple of decades after their 70s heyday, it looked liked it might be with a constantly changing cast of replacement musicians, declining album sales, less than enthusiastic ticket sales and something of a whimper rather than a bang. But, following an initial reunion in the late 90s, a mega-successful album with ‘13’ and a hugely successful world tour which reunited three of the original four members in 2013/4, fans hoped that there would at least be one more opportunity to say a final farewell, even in spite of a hugely worrying lymphoma diagnosis for Tony Iommi.

So here we have it: The End – Black Sabbath’s final farewell tour which reaches it’s ultimate conclusion with a couple of dates at London’s O2 and two final concerts in the band’s home city of Birmingham. And it’s every bit as magnificent, spellbinding and heavy as Black Sabbath should be. From the familiar doom-laden chords of the opening ‘Black Sabbath’ to the unforgettable riff of ‘Paranoid’ for the encore, every single minute of this concert was special. Geezer Butler delivers those unmistakable bass-lines, Tony Iommi delivers that unmistakable crunching guitar and Ozzy Osbourne delivers those unmistakable wailing vocals – the essential and unchangeable ingredients that make Black Sabbath what it is. Yes, it’s a shame that Bill Ward is not here to participate in this final tour but drummer, Tony Clufetos, does an absolutely outstanding job with immense energy. I doubt, really, whether anyone could have done it better.

Ozzy, as always, is a fascinating character. Between songs he shuffles around the stage like the mumbling, slightly bewildered figure TV viewers came to love so much. But the second a song starts he is instantly transformed into the wailing, demonic rock god that fans of the ultimate heavy metal band have always known.

My first ever live experience of Black Sabbath was with Bev Bevan out of ELO on drums and Ian Gillan out of Deep Purple on vocals, encoring with Smoke On The Water (?!) How fitting that what is likely to be my last has Tony, Geezer and Ozzy performing Sabbath exactly the way it should be performed. It was an absolutely magnificent performance, stunning setlist and suitably evocative special effects. The atmosphere at the O2, which can be a bit lacking at times however good a band is, was absolutely electric from start to finish.

Whatever happens now this band has made it’s mark on rock music a billion times over and their contribution will not be forgotten. Thank you Black Sabbath.

Setlist:
Black Sabbath
Fairies Wear Boots
Under the Sun/Every Day Comes and Goes
After Forever
Into the Void
Snowblind
War Pigs
Behind the Wall of Sleep
N.I.B.
Hand of Doom
Rat Salad
Iron Man
Dirty Women
Children of the Grave
Paranoid

http://www.blacksabbath.com/

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Previous review:

Black Sabbath at Hyde Park

Sweet at The Robin 2, Bilston 19/12/16

While this time of year often provides opportunities to see The Sweet at various provincial theatres around the country it is always nice to see the band at a proper dedicated rock venue. And the Robin in Bilston, near Wolverhampton, is packed out with Sweet fans from across the UK and further afield.

Tonight the band are going to “heavy it up” declares Andy Scott, following a deluge of requests from fans in the run-up to the gig. What this means, therefore, is that as well as those unforgettable Sweet hits, the audience also get a taste of the band’s brilliant 1974 rock album Sweet Fanny Adams, with ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘Into The Night’ from that album making a welcome appearance on the setlist, alongside ‘AC-DC’. The band produced some excellent hard rock back in the day and it’s nice to see that side of the band being properly celebrated, in addition to the more obvious but still equally wonderful glam rock side. It certainly hits the spot as far as the audience are concerned.

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Of course, before The Sweet even began churning out those glam anthems, they had a run of ridiculously cheesy but inanely catchy bubblegum, hits penned for them by songwriting due Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. For many years, the policy of Messrs Scott and co was to forget these even existed but in recent years they’ve made their way back into the setlist. But now the ephemera of the bubblegum era is completely stripped back and they are re-invented as chilled-out, folky, acoustic sing-alongs. Surprisingly, it works – and the audience lap these up, too.

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Of course, no Sweet gig would be complete without those glam mega-hits: whether it’s the Chinn-Chapman covers like ‘Hellraiser’, ‘The Six Teens’ and ‘Wig-Wam Bam’ or the self-penned hits like ‘Action’ and ‘Fox on the Run’. Add in some majestic versions of ‘Lost Angels’ and ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ and the inevitable ‘Blockbuster!’ and ‘Ballroom Blitz’ for an encore and it’s a perfect Sweet mix.

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There are numerous 70s pop-rock bands ploughing the 70s circuit, many of them continuing to offer a night of nostalgia and guaranteed fun; even if, like Sweet, you will only find one or two original members these days. But few, if any, offer the degree of perfection, professionalism and top class musicianship as Andy Scott and his colleagues, Pete Lincoln, Tony O’Hora and Bruce Bisland do.

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Sadly, I never got to see the classic irreplaceable Sweet line-up of the 70s. But I’ve seen numerous line-ups over the past quarter of a century and this is undoubtedly the strongest since then.

Glam rock and hard perfection. Keep at it boys

Setlist:
Action
New York Groove
Hellraiser
The Six Teens
Set Me Free
Into The Night
AC-DC
Lady Starlight
Lost Angels
Co-Co / Funny Funny / Poppa Joe
Teenage Rampage
Wig-Wam Bam / Little Willy
Love Is Like Oxygen
Fox On The Run
Blockbuster!
The Ballroom Blitz

http://www.thesweet.com/

Photo credits: Eileen Handley

Related posts:
Sweet at Bilston 2014
Sweet at Dartford 2015
Blockbuster – origins and influences

Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band at St Mary in the Castle, Hastings 16/12/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Rounding off an outstanding year of Folk acts at St Mary in the Castle this year we had Maddy Prior and The Carnival Band. ‘Folk’ is a bit of a misnomer, however, in a set that embraced American gospel, Shakespeare. medieval tune sets, eighteenth century carols, jazz swing and a Latin-American cha-cha-cha – in Latin (!) – to name but a few.

Maddy Prior will be known to many as lead singer of folk-rockers, Steeleye Span.

But for a good number of years now she has joined forces with early music specialists, The Carnival Band, for what they term ‘Carols and Capers.’

While there is never any shortage of carol concerts and festive sing-alongs in Hastings, three things make an evening with Maddy Prior & The Carnival Band particularly special.

Firstly, there is the sheer range of songs and tunes covered. While there are some obvious Christmas favourites, like ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks’ and ‘Ding Dong Merrily On High’ and ‘I Saw Three Ships’ many less well-known numbers and historical gems are unearthed, like ‘The Boar’s Head’ a 16th century English carol, as well as original material like ‘Bright Evening Star.’

Secondly, there is the huge range of weird and wonderful instruments in use. There are violins and guitars and drums and a lovely deep double bass, of course. But there’s also the sound of medieval bagpipes, shawms (a horn-like reed instrument popular in renaissance music) and many other authentic replicas from our musical past.

Finally, there is the amazing amount you learn about music, history and culture during the course of the evening. Each of the players has a very evident passion for the history and background to the music they play. Did you know, for example, that the reason why ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ became so well-known was because the 17th century Anglican church would only permit a small number of biblically-approved passages to be sung during services, and this was the only Christmas number on the list?

All this and the unique, instantly recognisable and still-beautiful voice of the great Maddy Prior. Although it was de-consecrated as a place of worship several decades ago, St Mary in the Castle still makes for a wonderfully apt setting for a Christmas celebration like this, even for a hardened non-believer like myself.http://www.maddyprior.co.uk/http://www.carnivalband.com/

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Related reviews:

Maddy Prior, Hannah James & Giles Letwin
Steeleye Span live in London
Steeleye Span live at New Forest Folk Festival

Introducing: Josiah Mortimer – folk/acoustic singer-songwriter

While I mainly write about established artists on here I do like to focus on some less well-known emerging talent from time to time. One such artist I catch up with is singer-songwriter Josiah Mortimer playing a support slot in The Monarch in Camden for Southampton-based rising star, Seán McGowan.

Mortimer is first on the bill tonight but pretty soon he has the audience on side with a good selection of songs which combine angry social commentary with sensitive and empathetic delivery and some nice acoustic guitar-playing.

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He’s a talented songwriter but throws in a couple of well-chosen covers, too. Clearly, this is a young man who has been on many, many demos and so the choice of ‘We Shall Overcome’ may not be a huge surprise but his gently defiant delivery gives it a freshness and a potency that makes it more than just another obvious staple from the protest anthem songbook.

Another cover is far more of a surprise. I’ve long been familiar with the lefty, pro-environmental credentials of ‘Jerusalem’ ever since our school history teacher, Mr Holden, told us the back-story to it some time in the early 80s. Mortimer, too, is also well aware of the song’s provenance and, keen to “rescue it from the Tories”, he’s transformed Blake’s words from stirring, patriotic hymn to thoughtful, reflective ballad.

The song that really gets the audience joining in loudly and enthusiastically tonight, though, is one of Mortimer’s own. Written just last month ‘Letter To America’ is a musical riposte to Donald Trump’s election victory. The sing-along chorus “build a wall, build a wall, around the White House” is a sentiment the audience don’t need much encouragement to sign up to.

Mortimer tells me he’s been writing songs since he was 13 and that they “started getting pretty good” by the time he began performing in public at 16. He has recorded three EPs and successfully crowdfunded his first professional release Luddite Ballads in 2015.

Beginning his musical career in Cornwall originally, he’s now based in London. Working full-time for a major national pressure group, heaps of political activism on top and a part-time journalism course to fit in as well, you may wonder how he finds the time to write, record and gig. But somehow he does and his Soundcloud page reveals an impressive selection of songs. If you want to hear some biting political commentary from an intelligent and eloquent singer-songwriter then Josiah Mortimer is well worth checking out.

Josiah Mortimer was playing the Monarch in Camden on 13/12/16

Listen to more of his songs on Soundcloud here

And you can visit his Facebook page here

Ocean Colour Scene at Hammersmith Apollo 12/12/16

I’ve long admired Ocean Colour Scene but never actually seen the full band live before. I have seen lead singer, Simon Fowler, do a nice, intimate, laid-back acoustic set once. But tonight he is, rightly, in full-on rock star mode so it’s up to Paul Weller to do the nice, intimate, laid-back acoustic set in a lovely and unexpected surprise as support act. One of the joys about gig-going in London is that you do often get nice little surprises like this. (See my post on the Dave Davies gig in Islington this time last year when Ray decided to join his brother for an encore, for example.)

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It’s 20 years this year since Ocean Colour Scene’s Moseley Shoals album came out and to mark the anniversary the band are doing a short tour performing it in full. I’d love to be able to say I first became aware of them when they were an obscure band starting out but like, I suspect, many, many people Ocean Colour Scene only came on to my attention when the brilliantly memorable ‘Riverboat Song’ (the opening track on this album) was used by Chris Evans each week in his TFI Friday Show.

Mosley Shoals (a West Midlands-inspired pun on the famous Muscle Shoals studios in the States) is definitely one of the strongest albums emerging out of the mid-90s Britpop era. Before they get cracking with Moseley Shoals, however, they reel off a version of The Beatles’ Day Tripper’ that gets the audience nicely warmed up. Then, beginning with ‘The Riverboat Song’ it’s off for a glorious ride, track by track through Mosley Shoals.

A few years ago the whole ‘band-performs-album-in-full’ routine was in danger of getting massively over-done. But for truly iconic albums like this it’s definitely something worth seeing. Moseley Shoals is one of those albums that contains so many memorable songs that it’s more like a “best of” compilation of band classic than just another regular studio album. Unforgettable songs like the aforementioned ‘The Riverboat Song’, ‘The Day We Caught The Train’ and ‘The Circle’ have the entire venue on their feet and that continues throughout the whole performance (even though, for some reason, the Apollo decided to set up the venue as an all-seater tonight, rather than pull the moveable seating out which they often do for many big bands).

Fowler’s voice is as strong as ever and Steve Cradock really gives it some welly on lead guitar, with some nice solos. With three of the four of the original line-up still with the band, it gives the performance some genuine authenticity. Paul Weller returns to the stage again for ‘The Circle’ – one of the tracks on which he performed on the original album.

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The crowd sing along with each track and once the band are done with the album they continue with a well-chosen selection of band classics, including an emotional communal sing-along to ‘Profit In Peace’.

As the previous generation of rock icons fill the obituary pages on an almost daily basis it’s now up to the Britpop generation to start assuming some of their imperial majesty in celebrating our rock history. Ocean Colour Scene have certainly risen to that challenge tonight.

Setlist:
Day Tripper
The Riverboat Song
The Day We Caught the Train
The Circle
Lining Your Pockets
Fleeting Mind
40 Past Midnight
One for the Road
It’s My Shadow
Policemen & Pirates
The Downstream
You’ve Got It Bad
Get Away
Foxy’s Folk Faced
This Day Should Last Forever
Better Day
Profit in Peace
So Low
Get Blown Away
Travellers Tune
Robin Hood
Hundred Mile High City

http://oceancolourscene.com/homepage/

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Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls at De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 10/12/16

My review was originally published on The Stinger independent music website here

Having been warmed up very nicely by the support acts, Felix Hagan & The Family and Esmee Patterson, the place is absolutely throbbing when Frank Turner comes on stage.

“I believe first impressions count,” declares Turner a couple of songs in. And bang – he certainly achieves that. Opening with ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’ from his 2008 album ‘Love Ire and Song’ he combines anger, affection, passion, celebration and wry humour – and that’s all in the space of a single song. In terms of delivery and audience response it’s more like an encore than an opening song but that level of energy is maintained song after song after song.
1035x1035-mi0003888505-313x313Six albums into his solo career, it has only been the two most recent that have made it into the top five and his singles have hardly ever troubled the charts. Yet he’s built up an absolutely devoted fan-base. Deservedly so, from tonight’s performance.

Turner and his excellent band pack in many highlights from his solo career in a two-hour set, including a good smattering of songs from his latest album ‘Positive Songs For Negative People’, in addition to an old Million Dead song ‘Smiling at Strangers on Trains’ as part of his encore.

From a well-connected, well-to-do family, Turner’s libertarian brand of politics has attracted strident criticism in some quarters, and he’s been notably hammered as a right-winger in the Guardian. I can’t pretend I’ve analysed Turner’s philosophical beliefs in great detail but of his between-song interventions tonight three could be described as vaguely ‘political’ in one way or another.

The first was a plea urging support for the charity War Child, an undeniably worthy humanitarian cause. The second was a passionate speech in support of the Safe Gigs for Women campaign, highlighting the unacceptable nature of the harassment and abuse that far too many women are forced to endure while trying to enjoy a live gig. And the third was pretty much a theme that ran through his chat throughout the course of the evening; namely the very collectivist ideal of urging the audience to look out for one another and to take some of that spirit away with them into the outside world.

Indeed, the only performer I’ve seen place a similar degree of emphasis on that whole ‘audience-as-community-thing’ was the avowedly-socialist, veteran folk singer, John Tams. What Tams never did was follow that through with stage-diving into the audience and being transported from one side of the hall to the other by a rapturous sea of fans, but you get the point…

A passionate advocate for live music, Turner tells us that tonight is his 1,995th solo gig. Judging by tonight’s performance one suspects there will be many thousands more, and he’s promised to come back to Bexhill soon.

The greatest voice on the contemporary music scene? Probably not. One of the most charismatic and compelling performers of his generation? Almost certainly.

More info on War Child can be found at: warchild.org.uk  

More info on Safe Gigs for Women: sgfw.org.uk

Setlist:
I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
The Next Storm
I Still Believe
Losing Days
Try This at Home
Long Live the Queen
Glorious You
Polaroid Picture
Silent Key
Plain Sailing Weather
Wessex Boy
Mittens
Cleopatra in Brooklyn
The Way I Tend to Be
The Opening Act of Spring
The Road
If Ever I Stray
Out of Breath
Photosynthesis
Smiling at Strangers on Trains
Recovery
Get Better
Four Simple Words

dlwp-frank-turner-and-the-sleeping-souls-840x561Photo credit: official tour publicity

http://frank-turner.com/home/

John Cooper Clarke & Hugh Cornwell, Kentish Town Forum 29/11/16

“The most surreal gig I’ve ever been to”

Most gigs I go to I either have a reasonable idea what to expect or know exactly what to expect. But ex-Strangler, Hugh Cornwell and Manc punk poet, John Cooper Clarke, on stage together with the latter singing – actually singing – I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Initially, when I saw the tour advertised and booked tickets I had simply assumed that it was a double headliner tour with both of them doing a set each. But no, they are both on stage together with John Cooper Clarke singing…

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To big cheers Cornwell and Cooper Clarke walk on stage with their band and immediately launch into ‘It’s Only Make Believe’. Now had I tried to guess what tonight had in store for us John Cooper Clarke aping Conway Twitty’s Presley-esque crooning would not have been anywhere on my list. But there’s plenty more: Jerry Leiber and Phil’s Spector’s ‘Spanish Harlem’, Macather Park ‘someone left the cake out in the rain..’, John Leighton’s ‘Johnny Remember Me, ‘Love Potion No. 9.’ It’s a veritable celebration of late 50s/early 60s pop culture and it is, my gig companion for the evening whispers to me, “the most surreal gig I’ve ever been to.”

Sound-wise the band really gets into the vibe of the era, particularly when it came to the gloriously eccentric ‘Johnny Remember Me’ which channels the other-worldly weirdness of Joe Meek’s original production to the full. John Cooper Clarke has a magnetic stage presence, some hilarious between song banter, combining absent-mindedness, self-deprecation and biting sarcasm in equal measure, and a just-about-passable singing voice. As they leave the stage to huge applause I think to myself it’s not a spectacle I’d want to go and see very often but I’m really glad I’ve witnessed it at least once.

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We’ve got the great Hugh Cornwell here though, and so I’m hoping, really, really hoping he’s going to come back on and rattle through a few Stranglers classics while he’s here, too.

Cornwell and band are soon back on stage, Cornwell telling us that this was only the third time that Cooper Clarke had sung in public in his entire life. “Now it’s up to me to try and lift it back up…”

He launches into ‘Black Hair, Black Eyes, Black Suit’ from his 1999 solo album, followed by a brilliant ‘Nice and Sleazy’ with the bass pumping loud and sleazy just like it should. We all get the chance to sing along to ‘Walk On By’ as well. And then Cooper Clarke is back on stage back in normal punk poet mode to give us ‘I Wanna Be Yours’ and ‘36 Hours’ with great backing from Hugh and the boys. Cooper Clarke stays on stage to take lead vocals on a raucous ‘No More Heroes’. At this point two guys at the front start pushing and knocking everyone over. Yes, this may have been great when you were slight, skinny, adrenalin-pumped 16 year olds, but now you are beer-bellied blokes in your mid 50s you just come across as selfish, obnoxious arse-holes. The women around them rightly give both of them a huge bollocking. Never mind, it’s still a great song and a great end to the set before we get them all back on stage for a final encore of ‘Get a Grip on Yourself.’

Surreal. Just surreal.

http://www.hughcornwell.com/
http://johncooperclarke.com/

Setlist:
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