From Sleaford Mods to Gallery 47. Big Gig Week & the All Night Bookshop launch

October 2nd, 2018

There always tends to be one week where the gigs pile up. Just did four in five days, Wednesday to Sunday. Would have made it five in six if I’d got to the great guitarist Michael Chapman at the Running Horse last night, but it was the first day of term and I was knackered. Suede (acoustic) were excellent at Rough Trade. On Friday, Trombonist Dennis Rollins was in terrific form with the house band at Nottingham’s newest venue, the wonderful Peggy’s Skylight, a jazz club I’m sure I’ll be writing more about. Only been open a month and we’ve been three times: an inspiring, imaginative venture which, as Rollins pointed out, has no equivalent outside London.

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets were stunningly good at the Royal Concert Hall on Saturday, playing early Floyd from Piper to Meddle. My nephew, Michael, and younger brother, Paul, were equally blown away. I didn’t get the review slot on this, but Sean did a terrific job summing it all up in the Nottingham Post. I did review Sleaford Mods’ RCH debut the following night. I’ll paste in the piece from today’s paper below. Often, I extend these pieces a little on the blog, but the Post gave me 500 words instead of the usual 300, so I won’t. I still managed to go over, though it may be cut a bit for the paper.

Before that, a reminder about the blog below. I have a book launch at Five Leaves Bookshop on Saturday, national bookshop day, when I’ll be reading from my Candlestick Press pamphlet, The All Night Bookshop, from 8.30-9.45pm. The pamphlet costs a mere fiver and, as well as my story, has great poems (which I got to choose) by Jim Burns and Jackie Kay. Jim will be giving a rare reading on the night, but Jackie is a bit busy as Scotland’s Makar (poet laureate) so Sue Dymoke will read her poem, Silver Moon. This Thursday, Sue is launching her new collection in the same venue on National Poetry Day, from 7-8.30, with special guests Jonathan Taylor and Becky Cullen also reading. Should be a great night, and there are still places available for that, and for the reading the following Thursday with one of my favourite poets, Martin Stannard, Frances Presley (who I haven’t seen read since 1990) and my colleague Andrew Taylor. 7-8.30. That one’s three quid, still a bargain. You can book for all of these by emailing events@fiveleaves.co.uk or following the links in this paragraph.

Also, I’m pleased to announce that, after I used one of his songs in my last blog about the bookshop story, Candlestick got in touch with Gallery 47 and he’s offered to play a few songs on Saturday night. He’s my favourite Nottingham singer/songwriter, all of whose albums I recommend, so I’m very grateful and rather excited about the prospect of having him as part of my launch. Do come along. I’ll put an extra song by him at the bottom of this post. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Sleaford Mods, who were in great form as ever, but somewhat ill at ease with the venue. I’m a big fan and did their first live review in the Post when they supported Scritti Politti six years ago (first time I heard them), but this is the only time I’ve written about them as a headliner and took care to make this fair rather than fawning. See what you think.

Sleaford Mods are taking a risk. After headlining Rock City several times, they’re at the Royal Concert Hall. Upstairs isn’t sold out. They played Rock City for a tenner back in January (for homeless charity, Framework). Hardly surprising if a few folk sit out this £30 a ticket show.

Two months ago, on facebook, singer/lyricist Jason Williamson wrote:

‘It’s been brought to my attention by a couple of keyboard dickheads that our show at the Concert Hall this September was born out of a sense of newly gained elitism due to the continued success of our band…’ He goes on to blame the backlash on resentment about his family having moved from Sherwood to Bread and Lard island. ‘We’ve played five sold out gigs at Rock City and they were brilliant, unforgettable. But we thought we’d try somewhere else this time round. I know in lots of your eyes this is perhaps not appealing and I apologise for the disappointment…’

Tonight, then, the band have something to prove.

They make us wait. After sets by Kamur and the always invigorating Grey Hairs, the dynamic duo take the stage at half nine.

Sleaford Mods are two middle-aged blokes in T-shirts and tracky bottoms. A chilled, baseball capped Andrew Fearn boogies behind his laptop. Jason Williamson bestrides the stage like a preening neanderthal auditioning for the Ministry of Silly Walks. His vocals are reminiscent of John Lydon or Mark E Smith, though you’d never mistake them for anyone else’s. The same goes for the music, rhythmic, edgy, with occasional shades of krautrock  and hiphop.

It takes a while to get into. Only the right hand side of the stalls stands, creating an odd dynamic. From the rear circle, the words aren’t distinct enough to make out more than half, a pity in this venue. Even so, the opening new songs Flipside and Subtraction promise well for the future. Stick in a Five and Go is excellent, as are Moptop and Just Like We Do.

During TCR a blonde in a black bra flashes the circle, then throws herself around empty seats. Ten minutes later, as people get sick of their view being blocked, security kicks her out. Before leaving, she showers the people who complained with the rest of her beer. Nottingham, eh?

Hometown gigs are odd for any band. Nobody’s a hero in their hometown, nor should want to be. Numerous guest-listers and people who’re checking out the show because they can sit down don’t help the atmosphere, which is never electric.

In the longest show I’ve seen them play (68 minutes) they take no chances with the setlist. They conclude with a thrilling BHS, a storming, harder arrangement of Jobseeker and, of course, Tied Up in Notts. Tarantula Deadly Cargo is a cracking closer.

Jason has some last words.

‘I’m sorry if this was the wrong choice of venue for this year. Please support us. We are the Sleaford Mods.’

A little dance and he’s gone, while Andrew photographs the crowd, taking a souvenir of a visit that’ll almost certainly be a one-off.

Gallery 47 – Rising Star

Sleaford Mods – Tarantula Deadly Cargo

The All Night Bookshop

September 21st, 2018

 

The All Night Bookshop was inspired by our first visit to the USA in 1992. We spent the best part of a month driving round California, starting and finishing in San Francisco. One of our first ports of call was the legendary City Lights Bookstore, co-founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti (who is, amazingly, still alive). The bookstore stayed open until midnight, an unimaginable concept in the UK, and still an unusual one (unless a Harry Potter novel is being published).

I remember which notebook I jotted down the idea in. It has a black rubber cover and is somewhere in the loft. Sue bought it for me when she visited the original Getty museum in LA. You weren’t allowed to park and the place was hard to reach, so I dropped her off for a couple of hours and went walking on Malibu beach. The notebook was a thank-you. The title I wrote, reflecting the story’s US origins, was In the All Night Bookstore, and that’s how it appeared, eight years later, when Geoff Nicholson and Martin Bax accepted it for Ambit, in what turned out to be the last of my long run of stories for that magazine.

A year later, when new publisher Five Leaves was putting together a collection of my YA ghost stories, Ross Bradshaw insisted that I include ITANB, even though a) it wasn’t exactly a ghost story and b) it wasn’t a YA story. I said fine. That collection sold out over a decade ago. I did consider including the piece in my collected stories, which came out in 2016. However, it was a pre-internet story and I figured it had dated badly. Happily, I was wrong. Updating the story for the internet age was easy.

Last year, Di Slaney asked me to write a story for a Candlestick Press short story pamphlet. You’ll have come across their Ten Poems about series, marketed as instead of a card, thought up by our good friend, the press’s founder, Jenny Swann, many years ago. Candlestick’s short story (and nature writing) pamphlets are a more recent innovation. I follow in the steps of Sean O’Brien. The prose is bookended by poems. I was delighted to get to choose one by Jim Burns, a Northern poetry legend (and fellow Ambit regular, a Beat enthusiast who, in his eighties, runs this review site) for the front. And at the back I’m proud to have a poem about Silver Moon Bookshop by Jackie Kay, Scotland’s makar, who has been a friend for twenty-odd years.

The story is narrated by a young student who wanders into a strange bookshop with a mysterious owner, falls in love with the assistant and starts working there. It isn’t quite the same as the one published last century. To acknowledge this, I’ve anglicised the title. The piece has expanded a little, too, excellently edited by Katherine Towers, with an atmospheric cover by Steven Hubbard. The All Night Bookshop has a semi-mythic feel that’s unlike anything else I’ve written, so it’s appropriate that it should be published as a stand-alone story.

If you’ve read it before, you might consider buying this new, final version. It’s only a fiver and, once you’ve read it, you can always give it away instead of a card. Even better, why not come along to the launch which, appropriately enough, takes place on National Bookshop Day, on October 6th, and, even more appropriately, is at Five Leaves Bookshop (independent bookshop of the year!), at the heart of Nottingham city centre, where I always imagined the story to be set. Ross will be opening late for the occasion, at 8.30pm. Alright, not quite all night but after his usual bedtime. There’ll also be a rare opportunity to see Jim Burns read, which I’m looking forward to. But if you can’t make it, you can order the book here.

There aren’t all that many songs about bookshops, but there is a lovely one by Nottingham’s Gallery 47 (Jack Peachey) who I recommend you check out.*

Gallery 47 – Little Job in a Bookshop

* Since I posted this song yesterday, I’m delighted to say that Candlestick have been in touch with Jack and he’s agreed to play a handful of songs at the launch, which is terrific. What a star. I must remember to take my video camera. And I strongly recommend that you book soon if you want to come, either by using the facebook launch link above or emailing events@fiveleaves.co.uk

 

Trailer Park Boys, Nottingham Royal Concert Hall 17.9.18

September 20th, 2018

Slightly expanded version of my review in yesterday’s Post. Tomorrow, news of my next book.

This Canadian mockumentary has run to twelve seasons (the first eleven recently went up on Netflix), but has always felt like a secret. Indeed, the only person I know who watches it, and is going to this tour, is the internet buddy who introduced me to them ten years ago. Yet the Concert Hall is crowded with, thirty-somethings. How did they hear about it?

Some have taken the cast’s advice: come drunk and this docu-soap, about a pair of ne’er do well dope growers living in a Canadian Trailer Park and their neighbours, is best watched while well oiled. Julien (master mind/all day drinker) and the indefatigably dumb yet arrogant Ricky get into all sorts of scrapes, frequently assisted or hindered by their bespectacled, not-as-nerdy-as-he-looks friend, Bubbles, while wannabe cop Randy tries to frustrate them.

The TPB’s arch enemy, park boss Jim Lahey, was played by John Dunmore, who died a year ago, putting the series into hiatus. He’s featured heavily tonight, in the copious clips shown on a big screen, which is where Ricky and Julien first appear, in silhouette. They’re soon followed by Randy and his famous belly. Yes, TPB fans, Randy stays topless throughout.

The show is at its best when it’s just the four of them, affectionately riffing, talking filthy and teasing each other. Ricky, for instance, thinks that Cheerios are baby doughnuts. But there are two hours to fill, which means audience participation games and a couple of songs. Their version of Pointless (Sunnivale Feud) is endless but ‘Ball Off’ is funny and Randy’s Belly Baring competition is hilarious.

Before the interval, Randy sells playing cards in a raffle for Ricky’s bong. The winner is presented with it at the climax, then invited backstage.  The evening is anchored by Bubbles, who sings and plays surprisingly well. His band will appear on the Trailer Park Boys cruise, promoted on the stage backdrop before and after the show, where minor characters Corey and Trevor (& many more) will also be there for the faithful. Tonight was pretty good but I think that’s a step too far for me….

The biggest cheers of this good-natured evening come for the tribute to the late, not-so-great Jim Leahy at the end. The 18 year old I took with me loved it all and the TPBs say they’ll be back. The TV show may be over but this may turn out to be less of an ending, and more the beginning of a lucrative new chapter.

Laura Cantrell: Nottingham Glee, 4.5.16

September 4th, 2018

One last archive review no longer on the Post website before the autumn round begins in a couple of weeks. This was Laura Cantrell‘s third Glee show. I reviewed the other ones here and here. Nearly time she came back again.

Modern country music has an embarrassment of fine female singer/songwriters. Few have as pure a voice or acute a song-writing sensitivity as Laura Cantrell. On her third visit to this venue, she does not have a new album to promote, a rather enjoyable collection of her BBC recordings. Most were made for John Peel, a huge fan of hers.

Once again, Mark Spencer is on guitars and pedal steel. His feisty, accomplished accompaniment occasionally drowns bassist Jordan Caress.

Opener Pile of Woe could sum up the theme of half of Cantrell’s songs, while the chipper Can’t Wait is followed, wittily, by the equally upbeat Wait. The title track of No Way There From Here is the first big ballad. All Blue, from the BBC album, is preceded by a vigorous debate about whether it’s in C or D. (D is the correct answer. Laura wins).

The set’s highlights include the haunting When The Roses Bloom Again, with an anecdote about Rickie Skaggs and Barry Gibb reinterpreting the original version of the song. A Record Store Day first vinyl release for Laura’s debut LP leads to Not The Tremblin’ Kind dominating the setlist for the first time in many years. No less than five songs from it close the main set, including Two Seconds and a rousing Churches Off The Interstate.

For the encore, Cantrell is joined by former Nashville neighbour Kris Wilkinson Hughes from support My Girl, The River. They debut an untitled new ballad, which includes the word ‘surmise’. Is this a country word? Laura wonders. ‘What would Nick Lowe do? He’d use it. So I did.’

Cantrell exudes poise, with classic country looks and voice, and finishes with a piece of classic country, Sing Me Back Home, loving slowed down in  tribute to its author, the late Merle Haggard.

Laura Cantrell – When The Roses Bloom Again (live at the BBC)

Jesus and Mary Chain – Rock City, Nottingham 22.2.15

August 6th, 2018

Anniversary tours come thick and fast. Can it really be 30 years since the JAMC’s debut Psychocandy? Evidently so. This band’s early, short, chaotic, feedback soaked gigs are a thing of legend. It feels utterly wrong for them to play their incendiary album in full, in order, like a museum piece. But that’s what they’re here to do tonight.

For most fans, they never topped their debut, but the first part of tonight’s show is there to remind us that they produced plenty of other fine material. The band did move on from the Phil Spector meets the Velvet Underground noise (more recently adopted by Glasvegas) that they specialised in, to a more classic rock sound. But they never lost that chunky, mesmerising melodic edge, which was fully evident tonight. They open with the glorious April Skies and it’s clear that, with improvements in technology, the band have never sounded better.

The next number, the supremely catchy Head On, was such an influence on Black Francis that many Pixies fans think he wrote it. Then there’s the wonderful Some Candy Talking, followed by the title track of Psychocandy (which was dropped from the album) and a show stopping Reverence, all white light flashing, with its ‘I wanna die like Jesus Christ’ refrain. It’s so good that it might have been better saved for the encore, if this band did encores. Upside Down finishes the half hour ‘hits’ set and they leave the stage, only to return two minutes later.

The drum sounds of Be My Baby heralds the opening of Just Like Honey. The crowd go crazy for the band’s first album, which is performed in full, in order, without any introductions, until the end, when Jim Reid says that he hopes we enjoyed the show and this is the last number.

And it’s fine. Great, in fact. The strobes and smoke make the stage very atmospeheric. The album holds up well. In A Hole and Never Understand are particularly good. But there’s no suspense about what they’ll play next. The crowd’s excitement dissipates after a few numbers, only to revive towards the end with the terrific Trip Me Up. Psychocandy was what people had paid to see and it’s what they got, but, for my money, good though this evening was, a balanced set reflecting the band’s whole career would have been better, more exciting. Too much reverence, maybe.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – Some Candy Talking

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Kacey Musgraves - Oh, What A World, Nottingham Royal Centre, October 26th, 2018
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