Billy Bragg, Rock City, November 18th, 2017

November 19th, 2017

Billy Bragg wants us to know he hasn’t joined the ‘Christmas Kitsch’ market. ‘I see Bananarama have got in early’. But he’s here to do his big numbers. A mass singalong of Sexuality starts the show, and a packed Rock City doesn’t just do the chorus, it knows every word and fills in the back harmonies. Billy is visibly impressed, gushing about Rock City Saturday nights and the best singing on the tour.

He’s brought ‘the green monster’ on which he wrote many of the songs, reminding us of his first Nottingham visit, 33 years ago, to a packed basement club called The Garage, especially when he plays ‘The Milkman of Human Kindness’.  The guitar’s doing his back in but it’s worth it.

It’s a nearly solo show. CJ Hillman provides sweet pedal steel on several songs and impersonates Johnny Marr on Accident Waiting to Happen. Greetings to the New Brunette (Shirley), St Swithin’s Day, The Warmest Room and Levi Stubbs’ Tears are given great, faithful renditions.

Bragg’s between song repartee remains half stand-up/half sermon. He has plenty to say about Brexit and Trump. The buckets are out for Notts homeless charity Framework. Woody Guthrie’s Ain’t Got No Home is dedicated to the campaigners sleeping overnight on the Forest, who were in for a cold one.

He plays most of new EP, Bridges Not Walls, including Why We Build The Wall (which I wrote about last time he played Nottingham), explaining how he came back to writing political songs like Saffiyah Smiles. Keep Faith (dedicated to the audience) and Power in a Union close the set in resolute manner.

The first encores, Full English Brexit and The Times They Are A-Changin’ (Back) demonstrate that, when it comes to mixing irony and empathy, Billy’s no Randy Newman. The old person voting for Brexit deserved better than the song’s awkward mix of empathy, cynicism and condescension. Fine, of course, to update your own songs (btw ‘Must I Paint You a Picture’ would be much improved by removing that naff ‘if we lived by the sea’ line), but please don’t try it on Bob Dylan.

All that’s forgiven with the last two numbers. He leaves us with a terrific, rewritten Waiting For the Great Leap Forwards, funny and uplifting as ever, and a belting singalong of New England. Stirring stuff and probably the best Billy Bragg gig Nottingham’s seen since his classic election eve show at Rock City in 1997. What we wouldn’t give to live to see another one of those, eh?

This is an extended version of my review for the Nottingham Post, with a few more personal opinions. Last time I reviewed Billy at Rock City, I got some stick for pointing out that he was in less than great form (he’d had a bereavement, but punters weren’t to know that). Good to see him make up for it with a full, satisfying two hour show this time.

Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Sexuality

ABC/KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS – NOTTINGHAM ROYAL CENTRE, 12/11/17

November 13th, 2017

 

‘It’s been a while since we passed through these parts,’ Kid Creole points out. ‘How many of you were here in 82? Your age is showing.’

Two of the Coconuts weren’t born when he played Rock City. August Darnell, 67, looks ten years younger, and still sports a natty purple zoot suit, with frequent change of hat.

The band take the stage at full throttle, pumping through a strong Stoolpigeon, a terrific I’m A Wonderful Thing, Baby (‘this is from my egotistical years’) among others. The brilliant Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy (which does a bit of crucial foreshadowing in my most recent novel) is the highlight.

The Coconuts, in their Hawaiian skirts, are as flirtatiously entertaining as the 82 incarnation. The six piece band are great. No wonder virtually the whole audience is there for the 7.30 start and quite a few dance in the aisles. Support act of the year.

ABC were also at their peak in 82 but never played Rock City. They’ve made up for that with three visits in recent years. It’s only a year since their exhilarating Lexicon of Love orchestral show.  This final gig of their greatest hits tour was added late. It’s a more relaxed affair than the orchestral event. That said, there’s plenty for fans to enjoy.

The set is carefully structured. Four numbers from Lexicon of Love Two are mixed with smaller hits and one new song during the first hour. There’s a great rendition of the rarely performed Be Near Me, their biggest US hit.

The video for 1987’s King Without a Crown (it got to number 44 – no, I didn’t remember it either) plays on the screen, intercut with the present show. It’s one of several video reminders that 80s fashion hasn’t lasted well. Great to hear Beauty Stab’s That Was Then But This is Now powerfully performed. Obviously, there isn’t room for all of their more minor hits, and S.O.S. is sadly absent.

The big Lexicon songs are saved for last. The set closes with Tears are Not Enough and All of My Heart. Poison Arrow and The Look of Love bring the whole crowd to their feet. Splendid, although as a commentator on the Post website (where a shorter version of this review appeared) said, anyone following Kid Creole is bound to feel a little flat. Kudos to Martin Fry, however, for treating us to such a great double bill. We had great seats, and Sue took the photos above. We were both at the 1982 Rock City gig, though we didn’t know each other then.

Kid Creole & the Cocounts – Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy

ABC – That Was Then But This Is Now

Public Service Broadcasting at Rock City, October 21st

October 24th, 2017

Public Service Broadcasting hardly sound like the quintessential live
act. Their albums could double as the soundtrack to an installation or
documentary. 2015’s impressive album The Race for Space was recently
followed by an album with a less commercial but no less worthy
concept. Every Valley charts the rise and fall of the Welsh coal
mining industry between the 1950’s and 1980’s.

Founder J. Willgoose, Esq. on guitar, is joined by Wrigglesworth on
drums and newest member J F Abraham on bass. Each also plays sundry
other instruments. They could be three bespectacled secondary school
teachers. Willgoose, from the back of the crowded floor, resembles
newsman Robert Peston, giving enthusiastic, polite introductions.

Illness forced me to miss them last year, but I was determined to see this tour and am delighted I came.

A rammed Rock City is here for a good time. Two tracks from Every
Valley set an intense mood, then the uplifting Theme From PSB gets the
party started. It’s a relief, after half an hour, when the air
conditioning comes on.

This is a joyous show, with PSB frequently joined by Two Brassy Gents
and, on They Gave Me a Lamp, Haiku Salut, who also re-emerge, dressed
as cosmonauts, for the encore (see Robin Lewis’s picture, above).

I have rarely seen a more carefully balanced set.

Blending songs from their two concept albums with the
less cerebral first LP, they create a set that flows logically to an
exhilarating climax. The video backdrops are outstanding, making
terrific use of archive footage and interviews. The only issue is that
sometimes the male Welsh voices are drowned by the music.

Encores of Gagarin and Everest bring the 95 minute set to an
exhilarating close. Kudos to whoever came up with PSB’s witty, pre-gig
announcement. This explained why it’s a bad idea to make films on
phones during the ‘hard rock/soft pop’ show. ‘But a few photos is
fine’. It worked a treat, with barely a camera in sight throughout,
enhancing a proper, beat driven, highly visual, Rock City classic
Saturday night.

Apologies for the lack of recent posts: computer issues, trying to write a novel, start of term etc. I don’t put the majority of my Post reviews on here, but this one isn’t online. This month (below) I’ve also reviewed Squeeze and Slaid Cleaves for them. Follow the links to read the reviews. Press ‘play’ below to hear ‘Theme From PSB’.

 

PSB setlist

· Every Valley

· The Pit

· Theme From PSB

· The Now Generation

· Korolev

· People Will Always Need Coal

· Go to the Road

· Night Mail

· Spitfire

· Progress

· They Gave Me a Lamp

(with Haiku Salut)

· All Out

· The Other Side

· Go!

· Lit Up

· Encore:

· Gagarin

· Everest

Lambchop – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham

August 14th, 2017

An extended version of my review for the Nottingham Post.

Lambchop are a melancholy, mesmerising band. The Nashville group rarely tour, even in tonight’s stripped down trio version. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person there who’d waited over twenty years to see them. Indeed, they’re my main reason for buying a ticket for Green Man this year (not that I needed much encouragement), before this tour was announced. Frontman Kurt Wagner sets up the laptop which will supply synths and drums. ‘I’ll be checking my email throughout the performance.’ Before opening with Writer, he tells the crowd, ‘It’s just us now, we can’t rely on governments’.

The set mixes songs from delicious recent album – possibly their best – Flotus, with its mild Krautrock vibe, and tunes from their long career. For two numbers, Wagner slouches in front of the microphone, an oddly arresting performer with jerky, minimal hand gestures. Three songs in, he dons a guitar for Flotus’s 18 minute The Hustle, affecting even in sadly truncated form.

Other treats include the obscurity Randi from the extended version of early classic Thriller, the first record of theirs I bought, from 1997. That play on Michael Jackson is appropriate, for soul infects Lambchop’s unique sound. There’s a lot of Philly and more than a hint of Al Green in Wagner’s delivery. The vocal effects used are, at times, reminiscent of Kanye West. There’s also something very hypnotic about their sound. A peaceful, laid back vibe runs against barbed, enigmatic lyrics.

Surprisingly, they only play their finest song, Flotus’s In Care of 8675309, in response to an audience request, as an encore. (I know that critics aren’t meant to get involved with the show but, yes, it was me who called out for it, astonished that they hadn’t played it already, and I’m delighted I did, as they didn’t do it at Green Man). It’s their Desolation Row and, also, their catchiest tune. Tonight, it gets a full, impassioned arrangement. The day after Charlottesville, Wagner gives the line ‘Can we take the next ride to your demonstration?’ particular anguish.

More of a career retrospective and less of a Flotus oriented set than I was expecting (I confess that, big a fan as I am, I didn’t recognise every numbers & a trawl of setlist.com tells me that the set varies every night), Lambchop didn’t disappoint (Well, The New Cobweb Summer would have been nice – maybe on Sunday). The place wasn’t as packed as I expected, but that’s August for you. On keyboards, Tony Crow was in sparkling form and told some corny jokes (I will try to recycle the one about Matt’s penis). Matt Swanson’s bass guitar was understated, yet utterly distinctive – hear him play and you know it’s Lambchop. We missed support Roxanne De Bastion, but she  joined them for the 90 minute set’s closing cover of Prince’s kinky classic When You Were Mine – odd to hear a posh English voice on this, but it worked. Lambchop were well worth the long wait and I look forward to seeing them again on Sunday. If I have the time and energy, I’ll do another Green Man blog (which replaced the Glastonbury blog, always the most popular feature on my website – update: Lambchop were great. Apart from the first four numbers, their setlist was entirely different from the one reviewed here. In place of a blog, here’s a link to my Facebook album). Here’s the biggest obscurity from last night’s show.

Lambchop – Randi

Holiday Reading

July 19th, 2017

Stuart Cosgrove’s 2016 Detroit 67: the year that changed soul is primarily about Motown (the label was based in Detroit until 72) and, as such, complements Nelson George’s classic history of Motown, Where Did Our Love Go? the rise and fall of the Motown sound. Like that book, there’s a lot about The Supremes (this was the year that Florence Ballard left the group). There’s also plenty about my favourite Motown group, The Temptations, although, curiously, he doesn’t mention that the classic five line-up recorded and released one of the (possibly the) best Motown live albums that year, Temptations Live! Another odd omission is that, according to the introductory essay in the 1967 box of the Complete Motown Singles (my companion listening while reading this), Motown had a sales convention in Detroit that year, as riots broke out. The riots are discussed at great length, but the convention isn’t mentioned. Minor carps, for this is a gripping, informative read which weaves in a great deal of social history, especially where it interacts with the music scene (for instance, John Sinclair and the MC5 were kicking out the jams motherfuckers! in Detroit at the time). Highly recommended.

Anthony Cartwright’s new The Cut is a fascinating, beautifully written, commissioned novella that takes an oblique look at Brexit via two starkly contrasting characters, Grace and Cairo. It’s a great read and has one of those endings that requires you to reread the beginning (or maybe the whole, short book). Cartwright’s Black Country is as compellingly drawn as ever and this one, if not his best (try Heartland first) will undoubtedly add to his ever-growing reputation.

The other novel I finished, Tony and Susan, was twenty-odd years old and had been retitled in the light of the success of the film based on it, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, which is the name of the novel within the novel by Austin Wright. The film very closely followed the book within the book, which is sparsely written, tightly plotted and uncomfortable to read/watch. The ‘real’ sections are longer and somewhat different – it’s rather easier to write about someone reading a novel in a book as against a movie. A modern classic, maybe. I’ll certainly be checking out more by Austin Wright.

Finally, I devoured a book about book collecting, by the redoubtable author and film critic John Baxter. Critic Ian Penman put me onto the out of print A Pound of Paper, because of the stuff in it about collecting Graham Greene first editions, which I do, in a small way. Funnily enough, I had a good chat with the singer/songwriter John Murry after his terrific Rough Trade instore at the weekend. He’s also a bit of a Greene collector, and had enjoyed Baxter’s book. Even if you’re not, Baxter has loads of great stories about living in London, LA, Paris and elsewhere, the legendary book scout (and guitarist) Martin Stone, and much more. So thanks for the recommendation, Ian.

It was only a short break so, a pile of New Yorkers apart, that was my poolside reading, except for a novel by scriptwriter Paul Bassett Davies which I started reading on my Kindle on the plane and am now 2/3 of the way through. At first I thought it was rubbish (sorry, Scott). It’s undoubtedly uneven, but if I read fifty pages of a book, I always finish it. Moreover, I still need to know how this odd novel (which the publisher sent me for free) turns out. It’s called Dead Writers in Rehab and the narrators include Ernest Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Wilkie Collins, Hunter S Thompson and… eh, Doctor Watson, plus a couple of equally fictional contemporaries. Some are voiced rather more successfully than others, but it is, undeniably, a fun read (update: until you reach the last 10%, which is, frankly, dire). Oh, and John Murry’s second album, A Short History of Decay (named, he told me, after this book) is terrific. Here’s a cheerful little number from it.

John Murry – One Day (You’ll Die)

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Billy Bragg, Rock City, November 18th, 2017
Billy Bragg wants us to know he hasn't joined the ‘Christmas Kitsch’ market. ‘I see Bananarama have got in early’. But he’s here to do his big num...

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