Friday 29 May 2015

Recent Gigs Part Two: James Atkin and Miles Hunt

The '90s revival continues:
Only three days after the fantastic Super Furry Animals gig I was back in the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall to see former EMF frontman James Atkin on his first solo tour. I also dragged along my good friend Tom of Tom Wiggins Blogs! fame. ( It's Tom's blog. He blogs there. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Check it out. )
Support for this gig came from Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls, playing an acoustic set of Wonder Stuff songs. The Wonder Stuff are yet another of those bands that I always liked but never got round to seeing, so this is as close as I've come. This was a low-key, warm performance with Miles chatting away happily between songs, regaling us with rock 'n' roll tales and telling us how The Size Of A Cow always crops up on Come Dine With Me when steak is served... which makes him a few quid. They didn't play that bovine epic but did perform some quite wonderful songs like Welcome To The Cheap Seats ( dedicated to the sadly-missed Kirsty MacColl ) and Don't Let Me Down Gently. Miles was in fine voice, although he had some tuning problems with his Gretsch acoustic, and Erica's fiddle-playing was lively and soulful, elevating the songs from any potential hey-nonny-nonny-ness. And she looked very striking too, as if she'd just stepped out of a music box. I'll defintely have to see this duo again.
The last time I saw Mr. Atkin was at EMF's legendary two-albums-in-one-night gig at the same venue back in 2012, immortalised on the Long Live The New Flesh DVD. That was one of the best gigs I've ever seen and, although I didn't expect this one to reach similar levels of awesomeness, I was looking forward to James' new material.
James and his two-piece band took the stage to a hearty hometown welcome and kicked off with the insistent throb of My People, its catchy indie pop and relationship-breakdown lyric setting the tone for the set. While James' new sound is necessarily more stripped down than his former band's, it shares a certain DNA, with most of the songs having a propulsive groove over which he adds some stinging guitar. Although it's early days for The James Atkin Band ( I don't know what else to call them ) they have a definite ability to lock onto a sound and pound it out. The keyboard player was having plenty of fun on stage  -  many of her synth parts were pre-recorded, allowing her to dance around the keys, sing backing vocals and beat hell out of a tambourine. It was nice to see an old-skool "Acid" sign on stage too ( see above ).
James Atkin isn't the most garrulous of frontmen but he seemed happy to be back in his old stomping grounds and had a couple of chats with the Forest Of Dean elements in the crowd. ( He was even seen hanging out in the bar prior to the gig. ) His breathy vocals and wide-eyed style are as engaging as ever and, with his omnipresent woolly hat covering his newly-greying hair, hardly seems any older than the lad in the Unbelievable video  -  filmed in this self-same venue. After hitting us with some future favourites like the mellow Love Blind and the anthemic The Silence Is Deafening, James ended the set with a couple of old favourites  -  EMF's Unbelievable and I Believe  -  what else? The hardcore ravers partied like it was 1991 again and everyone went home with smiles on their faces.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Recent Gigs Part One: Super Furry Animals

In an unofficial '90s revival I've recently been to two cracking gigs at my fave venue, Gloucester's ever-groovy Guildhall, starting with a mid-week excursion into the wild and wonderful world of Welsh wizards the Super Furry Animals. The Super Furries were probably the quintessential festival band of the 1990s and even managed to bother the charts occasionally with their resolutely odd take on Britpop. ( They'd probably hate to be labelled as such but they were definitely the wierder alternative to the likes of Blur and Oasis back in the days of  "Cool Britannia". ) I've got a couple of their albums and always meant to see them live but never managed it so, when they announced they were doing a warm-up gig for their first tour in years at the Guildhall, it was a must for me... and for about 400 others who packed out the venue.
 There was no support band, only a DJ spinning some bangin' choons ( as I believe they're called ), and there was a buzz of excitement as we waited for the boiler-suited band to appear ( above is a pic of them backstage just before the gig started ). This tour was based around the 10th anniversary re-release of Mwng, the band's ground-breaking Welsh language album, so I wasn't sure what kind of gig to expect. Was it all going to be songs in Welsh that I didn't know? Not that there's anything wrong with that but I was hoping for one or two familiar tunes I could sing along to...
I didn't need to worry: SFA came out to rapturous applause and proceeded to play half an hour of hits  -  ( Drawing ) Rings Around The World, Do Or Die, God! Show Me Magic, Bad Behaviour, Demons and Northern Lites  -  wow! All perfectly-formed, slightly off-centre nuggets of pure awesomeness; all Number One hits from an alternate universe where great tunes, melodies, lyrics and strangeness combine to keep this world's usual factory-farmed pop at bay. Then the slightly-creepy cover artwork of Mwng ( a pipe-smoking, bearded animal skull ) was projected onto the backdrop behind the band, signalling the next stage of the two-hour set.
In contrast to the psychedelic pop of the previous songs, the Mwng material was predominantly melancholy and more stripped back, with excellent use of a two-man horn section ( ooh, er! ) and highlighting Gruff Rhys's plaintive, heart-on-sleeve vocals. Unsurprisingly he gave an absolutely beautiful vocal performance in his native tongue  -  I've got no idea what he was singing about but the pure emotion of it all shone through like a ray of sunlight. After barnstorming versions of Hometown Unicorn and Ice Hockey Hair ( yay! ) we were into the home stretch and things got more and more raucous and surreal...
The set closed with huge singalongs Fire In My Heart and Mountain People, the band left the stage... and the famous SFA yetis, reborn for 2015, stomped back on for a final, pounding surge through protest anthem The Man Don't Give A Fuck. The fairly restrained Guildhall audience went absolutely nuts for this one, the whole venue shaking to the repeated, expletive-laced blitzkrieg of the chorus. And then it was all over and I drove home with Ice Hockey Hair still ringing through my head, knowing I'd just seen one of the best live bands ever. SFA OK!
Next time in the '90s revival slot  -  solo gigs for EMF and Wonder Stuff frontmen...

Thursday 7 May 2015

UK Election Day 2015

This may be cheating but I'm going to re-post something I wrote 5 years ago on the eve of the last UK election. You know, the one that left us with the ridiculous coalition government who've spent the last half a decade cutting services, inspiring civil unrest and leaving the back door open for Farage's xenophobes. Yeah, them...
As I said, I'm revisiting that post because, sadly, things haven't really changed in the last 5 years... except for the fact that the biggest threat to this country may not now be Dalek Dave but a certain beer-swilling, "man of the people" Little Englander...

This is a public service announcement ( without guitars )

Please vote today. This could be one of the most important elections in many years so please don't waste your hard-won right to vote. Please vote with your conscience and don't be swayed by others, no matter how well-intentioned. And don't listen to biased, uninformed bloggers...

But for God's sake don't vote Ukip ;-) 


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