Dance Stance

I’m too old for Creamfields. No two ways about it. I saw maybe three people older than me this year.

But, you know what? I don’t care.

I never was a hardcore follower of dance music. Never a massive clubgoer. And I missed out.

The sheer euphoria of being carried along by a DJ who knows how to build a set and take thousands of people with him is an absolute joy.

I went this year with a couple of mates. One who goes for the full weekend every year and one who had never been to a festival of any kind. The latter loved it. Loved it so much he’s got early bird tickets for next year.

I’ll be even older when next year’s come around, but I’ll probably be there again. Hands in the air and a big smile on my face. Sometimes that’s all you need.

Road to Somewhere

It’s great adding a new festival to the list of those I’ve attended.

It’s not a hugely long list considering the number of festivals there are every summer, but it includes Glastonbury, Sonisphere, Creamfields, Download, Leeds/Reading and the late, lamented Summer Sundae to name but a few.

And to that list can now be added End of the Road which provided a weekend of new delights with which to end the summer.

It lights up!
This lights up!

Held at Larmer Tree Gardens, it’s a small, friendly, well-mannered, respectful gathering of music fans with an impeccably chosen line-up.

It took an age to get there – Wiltshire/Dorset – on the Friday from the North West such were the delays on the motorway network, but we (Tony and me) arrived and found the site compact enough to get between the four main stages in a matter of minutes.

Not that we moved too far from the main stage with the excellent Django Django and the epic Tame Impala topping the bill.

Two full days on Saturday and Sunday allowed us to stage hop much more as we criss-crossed the site stopping only for coffee, cider or lashings of ginger beer.

Familiar with Stealing Sheep and St Etienne we watched both as part of the Heavenly Records 25th anniversary collection on the Garden Stage.

I’d waited a long time to see Northern folkies the Unthanks and they didn’t disappoint with a wonderful set that managed to be both moving and celebratory, and came complete with clog dancing.

Fat White Family filled a tent with their rock and roll thrills, but while the Big Top was rammed it maybe wasn’t their crowd.

The organisers had done well to get Sufjan Stevens to play his first British festival and he rounded Saturday off in heroic fashion playing intimate songs to a big field.

Sunday saw the temperature rise under clear blue skies and it was the perfect weather to lie back, listen to Dawes and pretend to be somewhere way out west, probably in 1974.

They just shaded main stage matters on Sunday from Future Islands who, I’ll be honest, I’d never paid much attention to but liked a lot since they sounded like my era, when my era was the synth-led early 80s.

Elsewhere I discovered The Delines and Giant Sand (I know, I know, where have I been?) and will spend some time catching up with both.

We also saw Gabrielle Drake being interviewed about her brother Nick, had a close encounter with a peacock, enjoyed the best festival food I’ve ever tasted and seriously contemplated getting a yurt next time round.

Might be time to grow a beard.

He writes the songs…just not all of them

Maybe I should just roll all the Manilow experiences into one.

There have been a few, and there’s at least another one on the way.

It was inconceivable a few years ago for me to think that there would come a time when I would have seen Barry Manilow more times than Morrissey.

Yet, next year, Baz will pass Moz on the chart of gigs I have seen. He’ll actually go third behind Echo and the Bunnymen and Terrorvision.

And it’s all because I met and married a very big fan.

I’ve seen him in London, in Bournemouth, in Manchester, at Blenheim Palace and in Las Vegas – in a couple of those locations, more than once.

At the time of writing there’s a rumour he will be the Sunday afternoon legend at Glastonbury. I have a ticket.

I also have a ticket for his `last ever’ tour.

In Las Vegas, I kid you not, I was actually on stage. In a seat rather than performing, but close enough to shake the great man’s hand and touch the piano he was using.

I also got to see him rehearse. The wife and I had mooched along to the venue as she wanted to pick up her tickets and we thought we’d check out the theatre at the Hilton at the same time.

Finding one of the entrances we just wandered in and could see the band in full swing, so sat down. As the music stopped, from out of the shadows came a familiarly thin figure passing on a few instructions before the band struck up again.

We watched for a while before a  security man came over and said we’d have to leave.

Either side of that show I’ve usually been miles from the stage in some enormodome or other, usually London’s 02 or Manchester Arena.

But the size of the venue doesn’t diminish his old-time showmanship and all-round entertainment craftsmanship.

After a couple of gigs I grudgingly admitted he was better than I thought he would be. Now I think it’s great to see someone with his kind of old school magic.

Not faux old school like Buble, but properly honed songwriting, band-leading and performing skills.

Of the gigs I’ve seen only one – at the 02 – was a bit duff when his voice seemed to be starting to give out. Otherwise he’s been the epitome of star quality.

If he does do Glastonbury, he’ll go down a storm.

Beatle Drive

I was surprised to see a Sunday newspaper advert for Paul McCartney’s tour that didn’t have a Sold Out notice over one of his dates.

So having never seen him, thought it about time that I did.

I’ll be honest; growing up McCartney was always portrayed as being a bit naff. Mid 80s to mid 90s was a pretty fallow time for him, and his best days seemed so far away.

Our household was also more Stones, Tamla, Atlantic and Stax than Beatles and Merseybeat, so as a kid I wasn’t exposed to the Beatles’ genius.

But genius it undoubtedly was, and going through a list of Rolling Stone magazine’s top 100 Beatles songs with a colleague recently was especially jaw-dropping. The Long and Winding Road, for instance, is at number 90. They consider The Beatles wrote 89 better songs than that.

If it had been at 90 in a top 100 written by anyone you could argue it was too low, but this was just their own songs.

Anyway, I digress.

The gig was at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena – formerly the National Indoor Arena – so required a post-work dash down the M6 which we made with 20 minutes to spare.

A pre-show mix of Beatles cover versions heralded McCartney’s appearance and he delivered a two and threequarter hour history and music lesson. He might as well have put up a big sign at the back saying `Pop Music – This is how you do it’.

His voice stood up terrifically well and his band, for the most part, were unfussy supporting players doing what they do to a very high standard.

Paperback Writer, Lady Madonna, Live and Let Die, Band on the Run, Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Helter Skelter, Maybe I’m Amazed, Back in the USSR – I could go on and on.

He finished up with the Abbey Road medley which includes The End, a fitting way to close, and for a legendary figure, he did that legendary status justice.

Sound, La

Bank Holiday weekend and the focus in Liverpool was all about the waterfront.

For lots and lots of people that meant the arrival of three Cunard cruise liners celebrating the 175th anniversary of Atlantic crossings.

But just a little further along from the city’s iconic Three Graces, the Sound City festival had pitched its tents at a disused dock site – breaking new ground and taking the event from the bars, clubs and occasionally garages of the city centre.

It was a bold move, but one that looks to have paid off – even if there are probably understandable teething issues to be resolved in time for 2016.

Having purchased an early bird ticket for the obscenely good value of £50 me and the aforementioned gig-going companion, Tony, enjoyed three days of fantastically diverse music. Australian hip-hop, Slovenian metal – we took it all in.

Sometimes the proximity of the stages to each other meant that sound bled too easily, but there was definitely much more of a festival vibe about the event with thousands of people milling about between the main, warehouse and marquee stages.

The closing Sunday night main stage run of The Cribs, Gaz Coombes and Belle & Sebastian would almost have been worth the entrance money alone, but Sound City’s appeal has always been its across-the-board strength.

There’s always something good going on somewhere and this year you didn’t have to walk very far to find it.

Silent Sleep opening up proceedings on the Saturday, thunderous Japanese two-piece Moja who were staggeringly committed in an early afternoon slot on The Cavern stage, and the wonderful Everything Everything all provided musical highlights, and many more were worth half an hour of anyone’s time.

Thumbs up, too, for getting American Pizza Slice on site. Festival food – very important!

Shouty happy people

The rain is the reason I first saw Feed The Rhino.

If it hadn’t been coming down heavy enough to make Ark building seem a worthwhile profession I’d have probably stayed stood in the shin deep mud at Leeds Festival in 2013 and watched a couple of main stage safe bets.

But instead the near horizontal downpour drove me and regular gig-going friend Tony into one of the tents just in time to witness half an hour of full-on metal fury.

And the opportunity arose to revisit said furiosity when Feed The Rhino played at Sound Control in Manchester with Baby Godzilla (didn’t see enough) and Night Verses (odd but not unpleasantly so).

They were just as committedly balls-out and honest as they had been at Leeds and it was great to see a band putting so much into their performance which, to be fair, is a characteristic of metal that makes it so appealing.

I’m not massively enamoured with pointless soloing, but juggernaut riffs, howling vocalists, a hammering rhythm section and a frenzied crowd make £8 for a three-band line-up the best value in town.

It might not be to everyone’s taste, but are those whose tastebuds it really tickles being shortchanged by its lack of mainstream availability?

Every now and again some rock titan will get an airing on Later but otherwise, as a genre, it might as well not exist as far as the main channels are concerned.

Watching re-runs of the fabulous Tony Wilson-fronted So It Goes on Sky Arts you can see just how exciting early punk gigs were, and if I was in my early teens again I’d want to be part of it.

Same would apply if some terrestrial broadcaster would take a chance on a half-hour weekly rock/metal show. If they had shown footage from this gig I guarantee it would have opened the eyes and ears of a few youngsters just looking for something loud, noisy and utterly rebellious to get involved with.

The beard and tattoos would just have to wait a year or two, though.

U Got The Hooks

I’ll need to re-edit this with a scan of my ticket to prove I was there, but when an extra date at Birmingham’s LG Arena got added to Prince’s Hit and Run tour I took the plunge.

I should have written about it the next day when the electricity of his performance was still lighting up my world, but even from the distance of a couple of weeks it remains an astonishing show.

The LG Arena is a fairly soulless tin box, so imbuing it with soul, funk, pop and rock took some doing. But when you can start your set with Let’s Go Crazy, Take Me With U, Raspberry Beret and U Got the Look, the surroundings count for little.

Yes, I know they’re all `old’ songs, but this was a show stuffed with highlights from more than 30 years. What is still astonishing is the maestro’s range. He could turn up at just about any festival – pop, alt, metal, dance, whatever – and turn in an hour and half better than anybody else on the bill in the style demanded by the promoter.

Here we got two and a half hours crammed with highlights including the reclaiming of Nothing Compares 2 U, an epic Purple Rain and a transcendent 1999 that reduced me to tears, just because an hour in and he was cranking our classic after classic. Those opening synth bars took the whole thing off the scale.

Neither his voice nor his playing have diminished over time, and maybe the dancing is a little less dramatic, but at 55 that’s hardly a surprise. He still cuts a mean rug though.

I thought the scene was set for him to be announced as Glastonbury’s Saturday headliner this year and he would fit that bill perfectly if the deal can ever be struck.

When you look at some of the dullards who have `graced’ the Pyramid stage in recent years, there’s definitely scope for the colour Purple.

Purple pain…

So far these have all been reviews of gigs I’ve been to.

Unsuprising really as they have been based on tickets I still have in my possession.

But I couldn’t let the appearance of Prince in Manchester last weekend pass without comment – not least because I didn’t go.

When the tickets for the Academy went on sale I was blissfully unaware. I arrived in work the following morning to read `sold out’ stories on all major news websites.

Then there was a shaft of light. A certain number would be kept back for people to buy on the door. I ummed and aahed; watched the news and saw a big, long line of people queueing and thought better of it.

The reviews were sensational, but it was Prince after all, and then came the kicker – it hadn’t sold out!

Not all the door tickets had gone as only 250-300 of those kept back had actually been bought. Maybe stupid people like me had thought there had to be enough diehard Prince fans to see these snapped up. Personally I didn’t think anywhere near that many would be available. I thought maybe 100, tops, and that I would be left outside in the rain as the final ones were sold, weeping bitter tears.

But that wouldn’t have been the case. I would have been inside, bathing in the glow of the Minneapolis maestro.

So I can’t even say so near and yet so far. He turned up and I didn’t.

 

Hitten Treasures

With nothing better to do one Sunday morning I was flicking around the music channels and came across a new music segment.

This showcased three bands in a 15-minute programme.

One was eminently forgettable and the other two on this occasion were The Ting Tings and Those Dancing Days, so a 66% success rate.

The latter’s song was a kind of rough around the edges indie pop with a rousing chorus that evoked great girl bands like The Go-Gos and The Bangles.

A quick Google search revealed that they would soon be playing in Manchester, so I got on board.

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Unfortunately the night clashed with something else but I thought they might be haphazardly late and the Night and Day wouldn’t rush them on, so I didn’t worry too much about getting there on time.

A dash down the M62 and a few tours around the block eventually saw a parking space open up on Oldham Street and we got inside with five minutes to spare.

And, while they weren’t on that long, it was the kind of gig you long to go to over and over again.

It was small scale, cheap, and with a band who were clearly enjoying themselves.

Disappointingly they didn’t break much bigger, but they left behind a few fizzing reminders of what good pop can sound like when it’s played by the young  and the enthusiastic.

Too good to be forgotten?

At the last count I’d seen close to 700 shows all told. I guess I’m missing some, but the memory’s not what it was.

And, as if to prove the point, along came this ticket.

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I genuinely could not remember a thing about The Pierces, the gig itself, their style of music, what drove me to buy a ticket or any of their songs.

All I could recall was that it wasn’t in Academy 3 like the ticket says but had been moved to Academy 2.

That alone led me to believe that they must originally have had a small tour scheduled, but became a bit more popular in the interim and scaled up some shows.

I’m not hurting the integrity of the blog by admitting that I looked them up on both Spotify and Google to find out a bit more, then played a few tunes and found out that they were a bit like Haim but with less of the indie attitude. Very West Coast, some Mamas & Papas and Fleetwood Mac influences creeping in, but I still couldn’t recall the songs I must have heard that compelled me to think that I should get myself along to see them.

Having re-heard their stuff I’m quite sure I’d watch them again given the opportunity, but it was alarming that after only two and half years I couldn’t scrape up the tiniest smidge of information about them or what they were like.

I can think of a few, however, that I’d like to have expunged. More about one of them later.