Space Adventures at Jodrell Bank.

Hello friends. It’s been a while. Apparently there’s been nothing remarkable to blog about in the last month, by which I mean there’s been nothing I feel the need to rant about on here. Which I find disappointing to say the least, but as far as I’m aware there is soon to be the next series of ‘Mad Men’ about AND the new ‘Sherlock’ come autumn time, so we should be well-supplied. Thinking about it I could have reviewed ‘Game of Thrones’ but I think everyone else was doing that too.

So. To business. As the title suggests, this weekend I was up in the North country (with companions Benchlad and Patrick) for what happens to be a much more talked about musical event then I had anticipated. And it would seem a lot more people know about Jodrell Bank than I thought. Do you know about such things? If not, it’s a space observatory pretty much in the middle of nowhere (I’d say for obvious light-related reasons, but the Lovell Telescope is in fact a radio telescope, as Tim the Scientist told us), the nearest place being Macclesfield, somewhere else I’d never been too. The North is still general unconquered territory for me. So imagine the scene – THIS is the Lovell Telescope –

And the stage is that tiny thing next to it. Tiny in comparison anyway. So there we were, Benchlad, Patrick and I, on a sunny afternoon around 5pm, in the shadow of this huge beast, enjoying the weather, the rudimentary bar, the lack of genuine ladz and trying to ignore the somewhat painful sounds of Ok, Go! (who kept saying “Hello Manchester!”) as they warmed up for the next and much better bands. Really, what niche does this band fill? It depresses me that they have a Wikipedia page that’s about four times the size of British Sea Power, who are obviously better and who were on next.

Now I don’t know if I told you, but I kind of love Bsp. In fact I really love them. I love them so much I let them do things on stage that, were other bands to do them, I would call them idiotic, insane, eccentric and moronic. All these but the last apply to Sea Power. Seeing them makes me genuinely happy, and no amount of pints poured on me or toes trodden on at one of their gigs would put me off. What’s even better is that none of these happen at their shows as their fans are so gentle and usually quite stoic. As are the band, when not performing. The set was pretty impressive, Benchlad was very pleased with the inclusion of ‘Cleaning out the Rooms’, I was surprised by the inclusion of ‘No Lucifer’ and ‘Waving Flags’, mainly because they’re bigger numbers therefore a little overplayed, and we were treated to a rare appearance from Ursine Ultra, the band’s 8 foot bear. Really. Apparently it was Shaun Keaveny in this bear suit, but I’m not sure. He did battle with a Bacofoil Robot who had been fashioned out of litter found at the site, and by the end I think only the arms were left and Ursine was flailing on the ground. This was all during the ‘Do anything’ freakout at the end of the set which they seem to do most of the time. These are the kind of antics that I would think other bands were pretentious and irksome for, but not these chaps. No I don’t know why not. One thing you can’t deny is how immense their on-stage wardrobe is though –

For me, musically, this event was all about Sea Power, but the next band did kind of make an impression on me too. They were the Flaming Lips, or the Flips as is easier to call them. I’d never really warmed to them via Spotify or iTunes, so i was apprehensive, dubious and wanting to be impressed. I’m a very hard task-master when it comes to new bands.

There had been a lot of talk about the bizarre things they do on-stage during the day, and these rumours were not wrong – Wayne Coyne really does roll over the crowd in what he likes to call a “space bubble”, which is effectively a giant hamster ball. It was odd. It did look like good, if not somewhat dangerous, fun. It didn’t stop after that – we were bombarded with HUGE coloured balloons, confetti and streamers, after which came lasers and oversized (to say the least) baseball-gloved hands. It was insane. It was almost like the music was a secondary thought to the spectacle we had been presented with, but when I managed to pay attention to it it was better than I had expected. I was all but in tears for the final number ‘Do You Realize??’, partly because one of the members of the stage show had just proposed to his girlfriend in front of everyone (I’m not smushy at all), and partly because I find that song unbelievably sad. But there was a Benchlad to squeeze and I was so tired by the end of it (you know the relief from curling your back forwards after a long musical evening?) that I fell asleep as soon as we got home. Which was about 90 minutes after the gig finished as there was something of a lack of car park attendants.. Not to worry, it was an outstanding day, perfect setting, and I want them to do it again next year. Please.


Song Of The Day #24.

The Decemberists – Down By The Water

I think I am completely in love with this song. A new offering from what has to be one of the best bands around at the moment – really, they are epic, and so worth a listen – AND I’M GOING TO SEE IN MARCH – and who have a new album out on January 11th, making that one of the best weeks for music in a hell of a long time. Last time this happened, British Sea Power released ‘Man Of Aran’ and the Manics released ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’. That was a good week. And as it starts the year off, I am very excited about January, as Sea Power are releasing Valhalla Dancehall on the same date. You won’t be seeing me for a few evenings, but you’ll probably be reading a lot about these new musical pieces.

On a slightly different tangent, the album title is ‘The King Is Dead’. This, I believe first made me think of Wishbone Ash and their album ‘Argus’, and also conjures up images of battles, farming, Thomas Hardy, mediaeval times – and the like. But thinking about it, there’s only one word that’s different from the title of The Smiths album ‘The Queen Is Dead’. And yet this makes me think of political things that I’d rather not thinking about. Is that because we currently have a queen atop the throne? Or because queen doesn’t say ‘traditional-horseback-flags-death-battle cry- etc’? Just a thought.

Anyway, this song was thrown in my direction by BenchLad, and we were both unaware of its inclusion on a new album, so as it takes a slightly different direction from most other Decemberists songs (as far as I’m aware, no characters die in this song), we presumed it to be early. But no! It’s fantastically catchy and yet retains good Decemberist roots in its traditional stance, as well as being quite fitting for the modern ear. Oh just listen to the bloody thing. You’ll probably listen to it five more times before sleeping. I LOVE THIS BAND.

Music Mondays – Living Is So Easy.

This technically should be a Song Of The Day, but come on! It’s British Sea Power, they need more than just a few words.

Oh by the way, I love this band. I suppose at this stage I should make reference to my brother, but only if I get to call him Dede. He, like with the Manics, introduced me to this band, but never really seems to go about introductions in the right way. It’s more a case of “listen to this, you need to, it’s essential. Actually, I’ll stick it on now”, as opposed to “oh there’s a band you might like, their EP’s on Spotify. For you to listen to at your leisure.” Anyway, that aside, I drove through the initial barrage of Sea Power love to find an endearing yet wildly underrated band – I can’t even find anyone to go and see them with me next February in Bristol, despite them wearing walking boots and chunky knits on stage (how is this not popular yet?). Eccentric and probably a bit weird actually, this band writes about melting polar ice caps, the flooding of Canvey Island and Dostoyevsky whilst rating castles and partaking in bird documentaries with Guy Garvey. But! Don’t let their odd antics put you off their music. This new release ahead of their upcoming album ‘Valhalla Dancehall’ in January 2011 (and subsequent tour) is, I think you’ll agree, rather good.

Called by the band “our most electronic song to date”, it has an initial pleasantly fake-sounding beat (is this to represent the fakeness of the characters in the lyrics?), with some classically unobtrusive and dreamy lyrics coming in a few moments after. And the lyrics are rather intriguing – I believe there’s no real historical or environmental story involved here, it’s more of a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at our times, and I think the title is perfect. Because it is! Everything they describe in the lyrics is indeed easy – how difficult is it to go to the party? How difficult is it to shop? – and I rather like the satisfaction of the thought ‘what will happen will happen.’ I get the impression that all the people they’re talking about are the people who BenchLad and I disapprove of/scorn, who always emerge at around 11pm dressed in next to nothing (in WINTER?! Bloody crazy idiots), looking to drink their body-weight, whilst we’re heading home for a good cup of tea and cuddle after seeing the latest film from Argentina. The soullessness of society is felt through the words from Sea Power, and again they’ve got it “just right”.

But then, is Yan just talking about a party? One where you go and meet people and have a mini groove? Or people just joining in with life? A “clay pigeon shoot” is mentioned at the start, which jars somewhat with everything else they talk about – so are they wanting people to meet in classic situations (who the hell meets at clay pigeon shoots Yan?) or at 2am in a sticky-floored club? I will never really know what Sea Power are saying, but that’s ok. Sometimes it’s enough just to let the music go.

Ps. Their artwork is AMAZING. And apologies for the video fading out before the actual end…

British Sea Power – Bath, Komedia, 17th May.

The Wandering Horn warms up

For once, what is arguably one of the best and easily the most eccentric bands were nice enough to play twenty minutes down the road from me! This never happens, so despite a disgustingly long day at work, and the fact that I’d hardly had any sleep, and wouldn’t have much more that night either, and that a mild cold was creeping up on me, my gig buddy and I braved the variables and went to see British Sea Power play at Bath’s Komedia.

And it was so worth it…

First off, obviously, the merchandise stall is always one of the focal points at a Sea Power gig. Most bands sell t-shirts, badges, cds and so on, and these do turn up on the BSP stall, but this time it came with added own-brand tea, chocolate and lager (surely a wonderful survival kit?), Tea Power mugs (magic mugs, no less – the pattern changes when you add hot water), and vintage pill boxes, smoking tins and (oddly) plastic fruits pieces to decorate.

As avid BSP fans, we (I mean Sea Power fans as a collective) have all been anticipating the new album with eager ears. I am confident it will be one of the album’s of the year. This new offering should be all-new material, unlike the album of 2009 ‘Man Of Aran’ – a new soundtrack to the 1934 silent documentary. And it’s not that Man Of Aran was terrible – au contraire, it used some of their finest tunes and melodies in a new and rather foreign context – but the point is we had heard some of it before. The new, as yet untitled, album, has not been heard yet, aside from a few gems thrown out at this gig. Lucky souls that we are.

I suppose we should talk about the support… Called John and Jehn, and they were ok – not too harsh on the ears (always a bonus), but didn’t really grab me. This was a disappointment as I thought supports were on the rise, quality-wise, considering Sound Of Rum and B Dolan for dan le sac Vc. Scroobius Pip in March, and supports for Lightning Bolt last December. We worked out that they were French, but they sung in English (odd I found – why not make something of what you know best? At least it wasn’t pidgin English, though that could have made for some comedy), and the lead singer looked like he was about the snap. He annoyed me a little for some reason, easily the coolest members were the girls in this band (what?! This never happens), with one playing keyboards and the other on bass, and the switched half way through as well. Pretty solid drummer (as far as I could tell), but the moment that conjured up the greatest feeling was when the lead singer looked like he was about the throw his guitar across the stage… Not exactly enamouring then, but pretty standard as support. In fairness, they could have been The Beatles and I still would rather see Sea Power. Obviously.

Abi and her viola

The setting up to a gig of BSP is somewhat different and slightly more interesting than nearly every other band I’ve seen (I don’t think my words are doing them many favours – despite sounding pretentious, they are actually pretty cool. Really. Yes really). Decorating their stage in flags to begin with, then foliage from the surrounding area, it takes about fifteen minutes, and frequently they tune up their own instruments (as you can see on the right with Abi, and above with Phil), so instead of the painfully boring wait in between Support and the band you really wanted to see, you have visuals! Komedia’s stage size lent itself well to a 6-piece band with a set – it made for a pleasantly compact, and therefore ambiently cosy, area. Wood, Phil, Abi, Noble and Yan all made appearances before their set actually started, and looking like they’d just been dragged through every retro and charity shop the world has to offer, they were wearing some awesome stuff. I’m not really one for fashion – clothes tend to pass me by somewhat – but when it’s as different as this it deserves a mention. Noble looked like a 1960s chav of sorts, wearing what I think was a sports shirt (not a football one so much) with, if they were in a contemporary context, comfy trousers that you put on at the end of a long day. Wood was in his generic navy blue boiler suit (I swear he must have a wardrobe just of them), looking like a cross between an in-mate and someone come to fix your kitchen sink, and Abi was wearing some lovely bright red shorts with a navy-themed top. Scarf and all. Good call Abi, her outfits never fail to impress me. Which is odd. Hamilton was decked out in something similar to Wood, with an added nest of grass as a hat, making him look like a wilderness, or a “marshland Jesus”. Although, aesthetically, his clothe choices are good, I can’t help thinking he doesn’t really consider the practical… Mr Sumner was pretty dull as far as “outfits you won’t find on the high street” goes, but that doesn’t detract from him musicality or performance at all, and Yan had the most incredible all-white thing going on. There were plus-fours (YES REALLY!), with long socks and foliage sticking out, some sort of woollen jumper that was a little like a cricket jumper minus the colours, a white scarf and ribbons. Amazing. Good work Yan.

Yan and Hamilton, Glasto '09

Now. What about the music?! The set-list was outstanding, starting with ‘Apologies To Insect Life’, featuring ‘Remember Me’, ‘True Adventures’, ‘Waving Flags’, ‘No Lucifer’ and ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies’, amongst many others. As they have so many incredible songs,you feel the need to yell out “CHOON!” at the first few notes of each song, and it appears to me like  greatest hits set. I think ‘Waving Flags’ should be more widely spread – it encourages a gentle pride in one’s country as well as appreciating all others. And I think that it something rather relevant, especially at the moment. Similarly, we could all benefit to the lyrics of ‘Lights Out For Darker Skies’, and one of the rarities played ‘Childhood Memories’. Such a lovely tune that last one. As well as the ‘classics’, we were also given ‘Pyrex’ and ‘Zeus’, presumably to be on the new album, and they too sounded excellent. Especially the latter. Alas for song names, ‘Pyrex’ just reminds me of cooking equipment, though I think the song overtakes this.

There were some excellent moments when Noble, Yan and Hamilton were on playing their guitars in the same position, with the fret board pointing at the same angle, making for an awesome-looking front line. The concentration in Wood’s face is outstanding, if not slightly crazed at times, and I was very impressed by Phil’s multitasking with keyboards and cornet. Although I am surprised he’s never considered a haircut, after it kept going everywhere. He does look mighty cool with a guitar though, even if it is a little outlandish for those mellow Sea Power types.

I say mellow, Noble did end the set by climbing the huge amp to the right of the stage, looking like he was threatening to jump, and Yan nearly destroyed the mic stand by swinging it around a little too wildly, considering how flimsy it was. However, the ending was just incredible – ‘Spirit Of St Louis’, being possibly one of my favourite songs ever, is a very good set-ender, especially when it’s extended (not quite to ‘Rock In A’ standard, but there was some semi-improv stuff going on there), and the band are clearly ‘in to it’. Lovely stuff. No encore but that’s ok – it would have completely ruined the ending number.

The only downsides were (to take up permanent residents at Pedants Corner) that Hamilton was slightly flat on some of his vocals, and that you can never bloody hear Abi. Such a shame as she’s a good player, but you can only hear her when the guitars aren’t present. There were some beautiful duos with the viola and cornet though, when you could hear them. Oh and Yan didn’t let me have his ribbon (or rather the roadies didn’t – not sure if Yan had a say in it or not), but there was a set list left for us, so not a total loss.

Crowd-wise, it was an interesting one… No sardine-effect at the front (thank god – I like to be able to breathe), no one throwing remainders of pints or bottle of piss (Sea Power have nice fans it would seem), but similarly no one jumping around wildly. So very vocal though – there was a lovely male contingent behind us who were yelling out ‘EASY, EASY!’ (so on and so forth) at the start of ‘No Lucifer’. Bounce factor therefore minimal, but pipe factor was good. Exceptionally odd.

So! To sum up, a very good gig overall – a sedate Sea Power, though not subdued, a cracking set list, lovely stage and costumes, idiosyncratic merchandise, lovely playing, a calm crowd and a wicked band. Why can’t all gigs be this good?

British Sea Power played:

Apologies To Insect Life
Remember Me
True Adventures
Down On The Ground
Childhood Memories
Waving Flags
Great Skua
No Lucifer
Canvey Island
Fear Of Drowning
Lights Out For Darker Skies
A Trip Out
Spirit Of St Louis, with a hint of Rock In A. Which would have been Rock In Bath.

And I can’t wait for the next album. Or gig 😀

Mezzo Forte Monday, Pt 1.

Where Did They Go Wrong?

My cynical view on all musical ventures this week points, much like the gleaming eye of Sauron, to the intellectual, and somewhat frequently misunderstood, souls that make up the Manic Street Preachers.

Having mildly forgotten them for a few years, a close contemporary of mine, Mr Thomas J Bench Esq (who has earned the right to this title, as he is attending a wine tasting tomorrow), enthused about me making him a Manics-themed playlist, thinking this would be a much more personal insight to the back catalogue of this rather odd band. Despite the aforementioned Bench insisting James Dean Bradfield “screams” on too many occasions, and deems them, as a band, acceptable (not a compliment from him), this was a good opportunity to re-live the panda-eyed days of when you first discover the truthful, gritty, desolate, (maybe a little gloomy?), and incredibly realistic view the songs of these Welsh poets and musicians take. And you realise, when it gets to listening to the ‘Holy Bible’, for the 14th night running, and you think you begin to understand Richey, and you think the lyrics “speak to you”, that life is, actually, fantastic. Not depressing, fantastic.

And then you get to this age, and you think “… Aw… How infantile.”

HOWEVER. The musical merit is still there, and it attracts a plethora of fans. My least favourite being the 40-year-old males at the gigs, who should be at home with their wife and kids and not pushing me aside to get to the front (especially not when they could sit on you and kill you), not thinking it’s ok to abuse other gig goers (we all want to see Nicky Wire in a dress don’t we…), and especially not in bloody leather jackets. Aside from them looking ridiculous, the amount of sweat produced by every adoring fan gets passed from person to person, thus making leather stick, thus making lots of pain. Idiots. Aside from the pain of getting your lungs crushed and having literally toe-space to stand on. Having said that, they still were lots of fun.

I’m tempted to say their lyrics make the band. Their subject material is out of this world – who would write a song that sampled a quote from the Nuremberg Trials at the start? Can you really reference more ’80s phenomenons than they do in ‘Patrick Bateman’? No, you can’t, because you are neither Nicky Wire or Richey Edwards. I am of the opinion I learnt more through the Manics than through the education system, leading me on the read up about everything they wrote about, and inspiring me far more than school or university ever did or ever could do.  So technically I have an awful lot to thank them for, but similarly if they actually DID something with their music, I would have a hell of a lot more.  I am so ridiculously SICK of the mundane set up of their songs. The dismal realisation that, yes, it’s yet another Manics album that has interesting subject material (and, let’s face it, much more interesting than anything that’s “in” (charts or otherwise) at the moment, as I really couldn’t care less if some “pop diva” met a bloke and now he’s not interested in her anymore… Oh so boring), BUT HAVE THEY EXPERIMENTED MUSICALLY? Have they bollocks. And it’s so frustrating when you know what they can do and what they have done! Just another collection of “verse, chorus, verse, chorus, solo, chorus, chorus, end”. Really, it’s just not interesting anymore. And no they are not bloody “back on form”, which is a quote I read every single time a new Manics album is out, but then again I wouldn’t wish for them to break up. But I feel I am “done”, whereas new music from them is concerned – I am quite happy with what they’ve already offered to the world. Similarly, I am done with seeing the hits played at gigs. I wish for rarities! So much more exciting than hearing the intro to ‘A Design For Life’, again.

On the plus side, they can also do this:

And this:

And even this!

I feel perhaps that I am disappointed in the somewhat less inspiring song format they have chosen to take, and that they don’t do seem to do anything with their music. Maybe their early albums hinted that they would? Maybe they should have packed it in a long time ago? Maybe I missed out properly on when they were really there, but it’s not all doom and gloom – there are some other exceptional bands in existence (YES REALLY), and methinks the Manics only need to hand over to them now.

Hello Sea Power!