Hands in the air – and we didn’t care

I remain staggered that an event like Creamfields happens in Daresbury, 10 minutes drive time from my front door.

I did my usual again this year with a ticket for Sunday only as I’m fully aware that I couldn’t last for a Saturday stint and the  come back the next day, when all I’m really interested in are some good tunes, a bit of a laugh and a few beers.

With the regular duo of me and Matt having our numbers supplemented – first by Jon and now also by Paul M – it’s a great middle of the Bank Holiday weekend day and night out.

Hadn’t planned to watch Tiesto again, but once we’d stood and listened to Hardwell we didn’t fancy moving away from that particular stage.

Tiesto

We love the outdoor atmosphere – especially on a warm night – and the headliner didn’t disappoint.

Just to add a little more excitement three of us walked much of the way home along the canal which, after a drink or two and in the pitch black, was interesting to say the least!

I never grin more at a gig than I do at Creamfields. I’ve maybe got one or two left in me and it would be nice to make it to double figures. Can I plead for Daft Punk next year and then call it quits?

It’s us that feel lucky

Way back when, well 1992, I got a free CD on a magazine – probably Q which I read avidly at the time – and listening to it in the car on he way home from work only one track made a lasting impression.

It was I Feel Lucky by Mary Chapin-Carpenter and I played it over and over. I also laughed when Danny Baker played it on what I’m guessing would still have been his morning Radio 5 show and commented on the growl she emits close to the end.

If Danny likes it, I thought, there must be something in it.

So when the parent album it came off was favourably reviewed I took the plunge, even though at that time fairly folky, semi-country female singer songwriters weren’t my thing.

But they are now, and the reason they are is almost entirely down to the impact Mary and her Come On Come On album had.

Within a couple of years and with the help of CMT on cable TV you couldn’t move for the likes of Mary, Trisha Yearwood, Kathy Mattea, Suzy Bogguss and the then sparkly newcomer Shania Twain.

But over the years their visibility has gradually faded from the mainstream which is a huge shame.

However, every couple of years she comes back to do a few UK shows one of which this time round was at Liverpool Philharmonic.

Last time out Gill and I had seen her backed by Manchester Camerata which was a magical evening, but at the Phil it was a more traditional arrangement of pianist and guitar/mandolin player supporting her in a show that was quietly understated and reflective in common with much of her material.

Her voice continues to carry stories of small town hopes, dreams and disappointments in a way that makes you believe every word and when it drops to barely a whisper it’s like it’s just for you.

The standing ovation at the end was richly deserved after she had worked her way through an outstanding back catalogue plus a few songs from her new album, The Things That We Are Made Of.

 

 

Mud, sweat and cheers

Michael Eavis knows mud when he sees it.

He’s a farmer and he runs a festival that is notorious for having had some truly atrocious conditions underfoot over the years.

So when he says the 2016 Glastonbury was `the muddiest ever’ you know it must have been bad.

Now I can’t vouch for all the previous waterlogged years, but I can definitely confirm that this year’s was a shocker.

Not music wise   Heard some terrific stuff, and you have to be the worst kind of curmudgeon to look at Glastonbury’s 2,000 acts and claim it’s all rubbish.

But getting around the site was akin to one of those fundraising Tough Mudder events. At time I thought someone was actually holding me by the ankles!

However, I don’t want this to be all about the mud.

Glasto

If you’ve never been you should try to go at least once. It’s sheer scale and breadth are staggering.

Other festivals might be doing individual bits better, but none are the whole package on this level.

Our – by which I mean me Gill, Tony and Helen- 2016 Glastonbury didn’t get off to the most promising start when James were nearly an hour late opening the Other Stage while tractors poured sawdust and woodchip onto the worst of the mud at the front of the stage before the audience could be allowed in.

But whatever else is going on, once a band kicks in everything else takes a back seat and James didn’t play it safe including several newer tracks along with a handful from their glorious past.

And watching a band who were at their biggest more than 20 years ago pretty much set the tone for a lot of what we did over the weekend. Our vintage can be gauged by the fact that we also enjoyed Madness, Paul Carrack, Art Garfunkel, ZZ Top and, particularly, ELO.

Jeff Lynne’s astonishing back catalogue with the latter was a wonder to behold as he chucked out hit after hit backed by what looked like a chamber orchestra and made a miserable, drizzly afternoon a multi-coloured pop delight.

Madness included a nicely judged tribute to David Bowie with a cover of Kooks and if Art’s voice isn’t quite the pristine instrument of old, it’s still good enough to send shivers down the spine when  you hear him start `When you’re weary, feeling small…’

There was also a rambunctious set in the Fields of Avalon from the Ben Miller Band who brought some backwoods country-blues to a corner of Somerset.

Honourable mentions, too, for Explosions in the Sky, Ward Thomas and Wolf Alice at various points over the weekend.

You always go with plans to see much more and then don’t see half. But getting distracted is genuinely the other half of the fun.

Still, not long now until tickets for next year go on sale. I’ll have forgotten the mud by then!

 

 

Just Dandy

 

A significant chunk of my music history has been spent on whatever constitutes a local scene where I live.

While this blog concerns itself with ticketed shows of a certain level, there’s a whole back story of pubs, clubs and halls where fledgling bands cut their teeth.

In many ways Sound City encourages the next step up from that level by providing the stages on which bands and artists can get on a bill that is being headlined by much, much bigger names.

So on the Saturday of the two-day event it was nice to be able to get two significant elements of what had made my local gig going so special back together.

Dandy Warhols

My friend Tony who moved to America more than 20 years ago introduced himself to me at a regular band night he helped run back in the day by wandering over and saying `I believe you like Mantronix’.

He gets back irregularly and was home on family business for a week. Having seen that Sleaford Mods were playing the festival, he was desperate to see them as he lives in North Carolina and demanding UK outfits chronicling everyday life on East Midlands council estates don’t tend to play there much. Me and the other more regularly mentioned Tony agreed to meet him there.

Now a mutual friend from back in those early days just happens to be Sound City boss Dave Pichilingi who cut his promotional teeth putting on gigs and indie nights in our home town and who was in bands at the same time American Tony ( as we’ll call him) was playing keyboards for some other local hopefuls.

They spotted each other on the Saturday night just after the Mods’ set and despite the obvious distractions of running a festival for thousands of people, Dave was good enough to take him backstage to greet the Mods.

It was a nice moment to end a really enjoyable Saturday where Sugarmen, Georgia and Band of Skulls had stood out.

We could have stayed for Catfish and the Bottlemen but it’s the sort of thing I’ve heard many times before and, while they’re good at it, I don’t need to hear it again.

Sunday, I thought, was even better despite lacking 20-year reunions.

Hanging around the main stage once again was worth it for fine sets by Neon Waltz,  Shura – who I think we’ll be hearing a lot more of – and Dandy Warhols who provided the impetus before local heroes Circa Waves and The Coral.

It’s a pity that both their sets were interrupted by a power outage,  but in fairness it didn’t detract from a terrific weekend of boss sounds, big crowds and excellent weather.

 

 

 

 

I’m a Mr Soul man

This was a curiously entertaining day.

I’ll admit straight up – it wasn’t Neil Young that sold it for me. It was his backing band.

That was part of the curiosity.

Instead of Crazy Horse, Neil was being backed by the legendary Booker T and the MGs.

I’d grown up listening to Booker T – and the rest of the Stax catalogue – and the thought of seeing the great man and his equally illustrious cohorts, Donald `Duck’ Dunn and Steve Cropper was too good to pass up.

19930711 Neil Young

Young had recruited them following their stint as the house band at a Bob Dylan 30th anniversary concert special, and as much as seeing them in their own right, I wanted to see how these slick soul players would work alongside Neil’s idiosyncratic country rock.

Me, girlfriend Gill and mate Graham picked a coach up in Liverpool and quickly dubbed it the Marrakesh Express as it filled up with fumes and tunes.

We arrived at Finsbury Park barely in time to see anything of the openers, 4 Non Blondes, and settled in for the afternoon.

Following these one-hit wonders (although singer Linda Perry has done well since as a songwriter) were Teenage Fanclub, James and Pearl Jam – a line-up not to be sniffed at under any circumstances and, to be fair, these three had made it an easier sell to Gill who wasn’t overly keen on travelling 200 miles just to see Canada’s finest, nor did she share my enthusiasm for the MGs.

Of course seeing Pearl Jam in 1993 gave her the drop on our mutual friend Tony who is frequently mentioned in these pages and is a massive fan, but didn’t see them until a decade later and had to endure the frequent question `so have you not seen Pearl Jam then?’

The atmosphere in the Park had been pretty rowdy all afternoon – although never threatening – and it picked up another notch for the arrival of Neil Young.

It’s the only time I’ve seen him, so I’ve nothing to compare it with, but it’s fair to say he didn’t hold anything back.

Someone once described him as playing his guitar like he was digging up a road which I laughed out loud at but can see what they meant.

It was a performance like a hard day’s labour. Furiously committed and determined to wring every drop  out of every song.

And perhaps that’s why he chose Booker T and the MGs as his backing band – to be the coolly functional counterpoint to his righteous intensity.

Before the finish he threw in a cover of Otis Redding’s Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay which was co-written by his on-stage bandmate Steve Cropper, and closed with a howling Rockin’ in the Free World on which he was joined by Pearl Jam and we were entertained by a lad who bounced around like Tigger throughout the whole song.

 

 

Get Lucky? Maybe…

Now he’s in some stratospheric orbit occupied by a select few, it seems strange to look back on a ticket that shows Pharrell and his merry men from N.E.R.D rocking up at the Academy.

This was a weird one all round to be fair.You got the sense that it was really only fulfilling some promotional UK duties, especially as it lasted just over an hour and only about threequarters of the time involved any actual songs.

I’m not even sure now that Chad Hugo was there on the night.

ticket

I’d gone along with two friends, Matt and Dave, who I also went to see a Public Enemy show with that summer – I suspect some kind of anniversary tour.

I would have said that was immaterial to this gig, but what both acts proved was that what are essentially studio productions of rap and r&b can sound spectacularly good live when accompanied by a full band.

When N.E.R.D kicked in with Rock Star, Lapdance, Everybody Nose and She Wants to Move, their greatness was unquestionable, and a wildly excited audience needed little encouragement to join a late stage invasion.

It was over all too quickly, unfortunately, and you were left with a curious mix of elation and deflation.Another half an hour and a bit less  filler call and response would have elevated this show no end.

Still making friends

A band has to have a special place in your heart to consider setting off on a freezing Sunday night to watch them do a tour warm up more than 60 miles away.

But after 20-plus years I find Terrorvision occupy that place.

When I’m asked `who do you like?’ the list inevitably runs through Prince, The Smiths, The Bunnymen, Sly & the Family Stone and then whatever I’m listening to currently.

It rarely ever includes Terrorvision.

Which is stupid.

This latest occasion was the 17th time I’ve seen them. More than anyone else except the aforementioned Bunnies.

And that can’t be by accident.

But watching them play to a fervent home crowd at Bingley Arts Centre before they headed out on tour in support of Thunder, I just thought that as a live act they’ve got it nailed.

Bingley

I’ve genuinely never seen them do a poor show. Once or twice I thought they were straining to be too loud and submerged the pop hooks that have always littered their best tunes, but otherwise, nine times out of ten – or 15 times out of 17 in my case – they’ve got it bob on.

This most recent show was in two halves. Maybe one of the halves is going to make up their support set, but whichever they chose would be a barnstormer.

They don’t do mumbled `thank yous’ or act as if they’re doing the fans a favour by being there . They do full on audience engagement, high fiving, taking cameras off fans to snap pictures on stage and giving every impression of enjoying it even more than you are.

And it’s never been any different.

I might never see Morrissey declare `it’s good to be back’ before Marr, Joyce and Rourke launch into Hand in Glove, but as long as I can hear Tony Wright declare `We’re Terrorvision from Bradford’, I’ll be happy enough.

 

Wittering on – and on

Aaaah nostalgia. It’s not, as the old joke goes, what it used to be.

At one time you liked  a band, the band split up and that was it. You retained a few good memories, played the records occasionally and moved on.

But now you can’t move for revivals, reconciliations and reunions. Whether bands were good, bad or indifferent.

The whole `touring an album on its anniversary’ movement has also helped revive a few stalled careers.

As a fickle human being I choose to approve of some and not of others.

The Stone Roses – not interested.

Ash – where do I get a ticket?

And so on…

As long as it looks like a bit of fun and hasn’t been heralded as a Second Coming (ahem), I don’t mind.

Which is how I came to be in the William Aston Hall in Wrexham watching the Inspiral Carpets and Shed Seven in what would have been, admittedly, a mid-table double bill even back in the day.

But I have nothing against either. I know most of the words to at least half a dozen songs by both. It’s nearly Christmas. I didn’t have to drive. It was all good.

And in the spirit of my criteria for approving of these things, it was genuinely a lot of fun.

I’d have always had the Carpets pegged as the bigger band and even Clint Boon admitted that two decades previously the Sheds had opened for them.

Undeterred they merrily rattled off a good chunk of their singles collection starting with Joe and dedicating Saturn V to new British astronaut Tim Peake.

They didn’t do Caravan which I’ve always loved, but they only had 45 minutes so they weren’t all going to get an airing.

Shed Seven moseyed on half an hour later and were actually better than I ever remember them being.

Now that could be because they play the kind of stuff I like and I don’t hear as much of it these days, so when I do, I like it more than I should, if that makes sense.

One of our party suggested Rick Witter might not have eaten since we last saw them as he has retained his whip thin frame, and he did look in remarkably good shape.

Cruelly it was also considered that he might be secreting a picture of me in his attic which is going to seed at a much faster rate and sparing him the inevitable ravages of time.

Opening up with She Left Me  on Friday, they then banged out a number of Britpop/old TFI Friday era standards like Going for Gold, Getting Better, Chasing Rainbows and Speakeasy.

 

The sound was filled out nicely by a brass section which gave them some added punch and helped replicate the sound they had unveiled on A Maximum High way back when.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable night out for the over 35s.

 

 

Yes, the rhythms, the rebels

Many years ago I was at a festival when the Prodigy were appearing in one of the tents late at night.

I took one look inside and thought `not for me’! It was absolute mayhem and as a non-participant in rave culture, something I was a bit bewildered by.

Later, at the Phoenix Festival, they were on the main stage as the sun was going down after a blisteringly hot day. This time I got involved and it was one of the most intense concert experiences I’ve ever had.

I’ve seen them a few times since and, apart from the tour to support Fat of the Land, they have never been quite as good.

Whether their early fire was slowly diminishing I don’t know, but their attempts to recapture the edge that took them away from their peers seemed to be an imitation of the great days.

But seeing them at Manchester Central on Friday was something of a revelation.

This was a bang on form Prodigy with a belter of a set in which even Firestarter was a weaker link rather than a highlight.

Songs from the new album were seamlessly slotted in alongside career favourites like Voodoo People and No Good in an hour and a half of dance/rock fun.

Sound was perfect and the light show mesmerising – all adding up to probably my gig of the year so far.

Support on the night came from Public Enemy who remain my favourite rap act.

When they roll out Fight the Power, Bring the Noise, 911 is a Joke, and Don’t Believe the Hype you’re hearing tracks that made hip-hop great.

Chuck D rolls, prowls, jumps and delivers like a prizefighter who knows he’s still got one great fight left in him and, of course Flavor Flav is the perfect sidekick who’ll never let us forget what time it is.

 

Because you’re thrash

Sometimes you just want to go with what works.

No `this is from our experimental second album’, no `I hope you like our new direction’, and no `solo acoustic spot while the rest of the band takes a break’.

The teaming up of two of the so-called Big Four of Thrash in Anthrax and Slayer at the Manchester Apollo was an opportunity to avoid all that aforementioned malarkey.

Just two and a half hours of pummelling, punishing metal.

It was a horrible, wet, cold, windy night as well. Just right for the darkness – particularly of Slayer.

As headliners they took a couple of songs to get going, like a juggernaut going through the gears, but by mid-set they were motoring along.

I’m no aficionado. I barely know one song from another. But their set was remarkable for its depth, its timing and its remorseless, unremitting power.

It was a nice touch too for them to illuminate their pre-show curtain with the French flag in remembrance of those who died recently in Paris.

Slayer

So many of those killed had been at a show just like this and I’m sure everyone was touched by the tribute.