Live Review: Frank Turner, Chris T-T, Jonny Black

31 05 2010

**As originally published on BBC’s Across The Line – May 2010**

Folk and punk may not sound much alike but both styles rose to voice the discontent of the people, the anti-thesis of popular music and mainstream ideals. On the surface it seemed like a huge change of direction when Frank Turner stopped screaming in Million Dead and picked up an acoustic guitar, but in hindsight it made perfect sense. Frank’s steady rise from the toilet circuit to Wembley Arena where he will support Green Day this summer, has been both sensational and inspirational.

Jonny Black is better known as the main-man from local-rockers, Lafaro; tonight, however, he’s providing support as a solo act having flown back especially on a day off in the middle of Lafaro’s UK tour. Whilst there’s a bit of a country-tinge to Lafaro’s dirt-rock, Jonny’s solo stuff is much more laid-back, good old-fashioned folk with pure Dylan vocals. With his plaid shirt, cheeky on-stage banter and engaging performance – not to mention a plectrum borrowed from the front-row – Jonny has the ability to shine solo if he wants to, but having just released a serious album of the year contender with Lafaro, hopefully he sticks to the day job.

Chris T-T is Frank Turner’s label-mate, mate in general, and main support tonight. He warns us that he’s “going to play for 2 hours, which will leave Frank with about 8 minutes”. He’s playing solo tonight too, and his set is a mixture of indie-folk, folk-punk and, er, folk-rock. The highlights include Preaching To The Converted and The Huntsman Comes A-Marchin’ (which Frank used to cover regularly), whilst he also plays a song called Market Square which he “co-wrote with AA Milne” about rabbits and an impressive rendition of M1 Song, where it’s just Chris singing without any instrumentation at all. It’s a brave move and testament to the size of the man’s cojones. Market Square isn’t really about rabbits, either – it’s a political song, much like Chris’ best songs – although the slower, soppier songs drag a bit, when he’s rocking and making a stand, there’s few who do it better.

It’s Frank’s turn then, and accompanied by his trusty backing band, he blasts straight into title track from his latest album, Poetry Of The Deed. There’s something about the atmosphere once Frank takes to the stage; it’s like a party – but one of those house-parties where you know everyone and it’s just a bit of a laugh and no-one’s trying too hard – it’s just fun. It’s because he seems like such a down to earth fella, as he sings in second song, Try This At Home, “theres no such thing as rock stars, they’re just people who play music / some of them are just like us and some of them are dicks”. He’s one of us.

Frank asks for a volunteer, and an eager lady in the audience obliges before knowing what she’s volunteered herself for. Frank says he can make her do anything he wants, but lets her off with playing the harmonica for Dan’s Song. She’s surprisingly good, actually. Frank’s relaxed style on stage is endearing, he tells us a tale of being pulled out of a riot by a cop to avoid an ex-girlfriend, and asks us for some encouragement to pull off a guitar-solo during Sons Of Liberty because he’s “not very good at guitar”. The majority of the set is made up of tracks from Poetry of The Deed and Love Ire and Song, with highlights including Substitute, Prufrock and closing track, Photosynthesis, where Frank invites Jonny back on-stage with his pal, Cahir from Fighting With Wire, to play the maracas and tambourine, like his own pair of Bez’s.

It’s been a steady and deserved rise for Turner, and having progressed from small, solo shows, he’s added a band and the bigger sound fits perfectly on the bigger stage. His songs have turned from folk-ballads to potential stadium-filling pop-rock songs, with massive sing-a-long choruses and buckets of heart. And that’s why Frank Turner is so great, his songs are genuine – full of emotion, sincerity and heart. I don’t think he really knows how good he is. Frank, sir, you definitely can play guitar.

Live Review: Dan Sartain, Lost Brothers

26 05 2010

**As originally published on Culture Northern Ireland – May 2010**

Belfast seems to be having a 50s revival right now. You can get the hair-do sorted at Vintage Rocks, we’ve our very own Whistle Bait Babies burlesque troupe and we’re spoilt for choice of an assortment of vintage fairs or throw-back events, where retro is celebrated and costume is essential. It seems like Dan Sartain – born about 50 years too late himself – is the right guy, arriving at the right time, to entertain a time-warped Belfast.

Also fans of the retrospective are the warm-up act The Lost Brothers, getting the evening started in a slightly curious, heart-warming way, their sound possessing a Mumford and Sons vibe. They have a unique look, a sort of old-fashioned, working-class Irish chic.

The Lost Brothers play a cover of Ricky Nelson’s ‘Lonesome Town’ and at Sartain’s request, ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ by The Everly Brothers, which are fine bedfellows alongside the Lost Brothers original material, which is lovely, but a bit Father Ted ‘lovely’.

For those new to Sartain, he’s a punk-rock troubadour from Birmingham, Alabama. Tonight is his third visit to the city having supported Hot Snakes and The Nightmarchers previously, but this is his first headline show, and his first with his backing band.

Sartain looks every bit the rock-star in his leather jacket, slick hair and shades, with his certain awkward-charm, there’s definitely an aura of cool-geek turned bad-ass about Sartain. With the way he carries himself on-stage with tongue-in-cheek banter, it’s impossible not to smile when watching.

Although fun to watch, the music itself is pretty dark. It’s a mesh of rockabilly, blues and surf-rock with a Mexican Mariachi twist. The set tonight is filled with tunes from the upcoming album, Lives, including ‘I Don’t Wanna Go To The Party’, ‘Yes Men’ and ‘Praying For A Miracle’ with a selection of old favourites like ‘Atheist Funeral’ and a Samhain cover of ‘The Hungry End’ to name a few.

Most of the tracks are two-minute jives that have an assortment of movers and shakers in the crowd strutting their stuff in an erratic fashion, which is brilliant to see. Sartain has an inspirational, intangible quality that makes you want to forget your inhibitions and get your groove on. Tonight’s encore includes a crowd request for ‘P.C.B. 98’ and ends with a cover of The Ramones classic ‘I Believe In Miracles’.

Amidst the tequila and whiskey-soaked B-movie horror-tinged spectacle, Sartain remains a genuinely down-to-earth, self-deprecating, humble, human being. Living as he does in his own self-constructed vintage bubble, for Sartain, it’s most definitely not a fad, a revival, or a scene. It’s the Sartain way of life, delivered with effortless cool.

Band Of The Week: No Mean City

25 05 2010

**As originally published on – May 2010**

No Mean City have managed to create quite the buzz in the six months since their inception, having toured with My Passion, self-released their debut EP and played extensively around Ireland, included a recent ram-packed first headline show in their hometown, Derry. They’re currently battling for the chance to play at some of the UK’s big festivals through Red Bull’s Bedroom Jam competition, having already made it through to final stage and played a set live from their bedroom on an online broadcast which featured them alongside mega-metallers, Trivium.

Their non-stop efforts look like paying off, then. Leading lady, Jilly, recently took some time out to have a chat to us about how the band came together.

“I’ve been singing since I was about five and entered many competitions including ‘X Factor’ and ‘I’d Do Anything’. They weren’t very good for my confidence so I turned to modelling and acting instead. I then fell in with some friends who were gigging in Derry, they had me guest and it gave me a thirst again. I put the word out and ‘Hybris’ drummer Brian put me in touch with Paul (guitar) and Joe (bass) who were searching for a front-man at the time. We had a jam and had our first 3 tracks written within the week!”

So their search for a front-man found them a striking front-lady instead and No Mean City got straight to work in a frantic manner which they’ve continued ever since. Their formation was thanks to fateful meetings and their band name followed in similar fashion; “I have a favourite poetry book I’ve always keep handy for inspiration. I decided to play the old blind fold/open a page game – up popped a poem by an Irish poet called Patrick McDonagh containing the words “no mean city”. It stuck out for all of us, it was an instant agreement, it was fate.”

Their music is a raucous mixture of heavy riffs and pop-hooks citing influences including Refused, The Mars Volta and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to name just a few. Jilly is an enigmatic front-lady; she is very much like a Northern Irish Karen-O, confident and quirky in the best kind of way, whilst the rest of the band provide a technically proficient and boisterously rockin’ backdrop to complete the dynamic. It works well.

Their progress so far is, however, largely down to good old-fashioned graft, as Jilly re-affirms when we ask if she has any tips for new bands; “The key is perseverance and promotion! It’s so hard for new bands coming through at the moment as people don’t have to look for music any more. Just keep working hard and when it seems like you’re banging a brick wall, don’t give up – sometimes you will feel like it, when you’re constantly playing to ten people but it will pay off!”.

It’s sound advice; hard work will be rewarded *if* you’re good enough. You can decide for yourself if No Mean City are good enough by checking them out on myspace, and if you like what you hear, vote for them in the Red Bull Bedroom Jam competition. I’ve already voted and I think you should too. If they manage to win, it’ll be no mean feat for No Mean City.

Live Review: Lostprophets, Jody Has A Hitlist

24 05 2010

**As originally published on BBC’s Across The Line – May 2010**

Lostprophets are tonight’s headliners having finally released their fourth album, The Betrayed, in January, four years after their previous effort. In those four years, Watkins and co have had various problems with labels and producers which have seen them scrap an entire album’s worth of recordings, and a a line-up change when drummer, Rubin, took up the chance to join Nine Inch Nails’ touring band. It’s been a difficult few years but they’re back to hopefully prove that it’s all been worthwhile.

Dublin-based Jody Has A Hitlist are opening the show tonight, having also played the previous night’s show in their home city. The crowd are chanting for them before they take to the stage; it’s amazing to see for a local(-ish) support band, so they’re obviously doing something right. Their music is pure emo-pop – they’re a lot like Motion City Soundtrack or New Found Glory musically – they tick all the boxes, flailing their guitars and fringes around, screaming a wee bit and singing sugar-sweetly a lot. They’re pretty decent musically, if a lot generic, but if they could get some bigger sing-a-long hooks in their choruses they could really take it up another notch. It’d be awful easy to criticize them for looking like emo-cliches but something local bands often don’t realise is that if you don’t look like a proper band, people won’t see you as a proper band, so I’d give them credit for that. It’s just a worry that they’re riding the crest of a wave that’s on its way out.

Lostprophets come out and kick things off with new album opener, If It Wasn’t For Hate We’d Be Dead By Now, which serves to set the scene with it’s moody stylings, then follow it up with recent single, It’s Not The End Of The World But I Can See It From Here, which sounds eerily like Billy Talent. Throughout the set we’re treated to some more tracks from The Betrayed including For He’s A Jolly Good Felon and Where We Belong. The newer material is surprisingly dark and heavy; Ian is looking a bit goth-chic too; My Chemical Romance definitely have a lot to answer for, stylistically; from their clothes, the lighting effects tonight and even their recent promotional designs, the Lostprophets have gone a little bit Lost Boys.

We’re also treated to a unique take on The Prodigy’s Omen, which sounds a lot like Enter Shikari, and we’re teased with a few bars here and there of student-friendly rock bands such as Guns N Roses and The Killers to name two, which was a little bit weird in truth. Lostprophets have enough quality material that they don’t need to resort to token covers for cheap pops.

The best bits of the set? Obviously the older hits – Rooftops, Last Summer, Last Train Home and ShinobiVsDragonNinja. The Lostprophets are generally a band that don’t bother with encores but they came back for one last song tonight, with Ian performing The Light That Shines Twice As Bright under a spotlight (ah, symbolism) before chucking the mic and stand to the floor in proper angsty fashion.

Tonight’s performance has been re-affirming; proof that there’s life in the old dog yet. The trademark Lostprophets hooks are still there and they definitely still have the knack for crafting pop songs. Having said that they were inspired by bands like Faith No More and Refused during the song-writing process for The Betrayed, it’s actually evident and has been a positive step forward. They may have given themselves a bit of an image-makeover, but there’s definitely substance to back up the style, and it’s great to see a band that have been around for 10 years cranking it up a notch and not just going all soft on us like so many others have.

Live Review: The Continuous Battle Of Order, Jogging, The Cities We Captured

14 05 2010

**As originally published on BBC’s Across The Line – May 2010**

The Cities We Captured are the opening act tonight and having to support The Continuous Battle Of Order is a difficult ask of them. What are two essentially instrumental acts, couldn’t be much more different. The Cities We Captured have a more straight-forward post-rock approach, and while they show potential, they struggle to really captivate our imagination; it’s almost as if they’re here to provide us with a blue-print so that the headliners can come out later and tear it apart.

Jogging are the punk-rock filling sandwiched between the instrumentalists, having come up from Dublin to entertain us. They have a refreshing urgency. Their influences are obvious; pure DC sound, Dischord territory – nods to bands like Fugazi and Rites of Spring – but they also bring to mind Hot Water Music and Hot Snakes with the pace and anger in their delivery. They have some complicated guitar-lines, off-kilter drum patterns; they’ve been a perfect fit on tonight’s bill and a pleasant surprise.

The Continuous Battle Of Order take to the stage next. Or not, as it turns out, as they’ve moved their kit down to the floor, the drums are in the centre of the room, facing the stage, and there’s a chair directly facing them with a selection of pedals laid out in front of it. Craig takes to the drums and Hornby places himself on the chair. I’ll admit, at this point, having never seen TCBOO before – but being a big fan of We Are Knives (Craig and Hornby’s last band) – I worried for a second that I was about to see a more measured approach than their previous incarnation, a Knives-lite. I think it was the chair that threw me but I needn’t have worried, they ain’t no plastic cutlery. Right from the off, Hornby’s wrestling his guitar like it’s an angry crocodile, busting out mesmerising grooves, looping riffs on the fly and showing off the stunning technical proficiency that those who’ve seen him before have come to expect, while those who haven’t are stood around, wide-eyed in stunned silence. He’s jerking around, flailing his limbs and shaking uncontrollably all while staying, for the most part, firmly in his seat. It’s an interesting visual, he’s like an angry kid in a high-chair refusing to be spoon-fed. Maybe he’s tired of being spoon-fed generic music?

To label TCBOO a ‘math-rock’ band would be too easy; they’re almost like an aggressive jazz band. It’s hard to tell how much of Hornby’s guitar-work is improvised, if any, it all seems so chaotic but still faultless. Craig’s drumming is stunning too – it’s as if they’re trying to out-do each other technically, especially with the way they’re set up facing each other – but they’re not in competition, they’re very much on the same wave-length. At one point, Hornby sets up a floor-tom and leaves a set of drum-sticks on top, encouraging a little bit of audience participation while he goes off with another set of sticks to drum around Craig on his kit. We’re all a bit too shy to join in but it’s a nice touch. Amidst the whirlwind of noise, there’s some hand-claps, Hornby sings out a few lines (without mic) and the set ends with the crowd chanting “we are all just pattern seekers”. Tonight we certainly were, and discovering the patterns amidst TCBOO’s chaos has been an absolute pleasure.

Album Review: Audio Bullys – Higher Than The Eiffel

5 05 2010

Higher Than The Eiffel is the third full-length release from Audio Bullys, it’s been a long time coming since their 2005 effort, Generation, and after five years, you expect great things, don’t you? On first listen, there isn’t a huge pop single – their last album had the massive dance-floor filler Shot You Down, and their debut release, Ego War, had We Don’t Care – there isn’t an obvious hit on HTTE. The first single, Only Man, is however, a solid enough offering, featuring Audio Bullys trademark heavy beats and rock-star swagger – perfect material for a British club/drug culture flick where the guy and the girl meet, miaowed off their faces and make sweet sweet love together – think Renton and Diane in Trainspotting, a generation on.

Drug-references are evident throughout the album, the first words uttered are “What the hell are you on?”, whilst later on we’re treated to some clunky lyrics such as “too much cocaine, too much brandy”. It’s music to get messed up to, but as much as it seems like a party album on the surface, there’s a dark underbelly, with lines such as, “all the beauty i’ve created, turned me into everything i hated” / “i’m on the edge, i’m on the brink, imagining blood dripping down the sink”. It’s grim stuff at times, lyrically.

The most obvious comparison, musically, is to the Streets, but more dance-oriented with bigger beats and dumbed down lyrics. There’s a distinctive British rock-vibe too, you can hear hints of the Stone Roses and the Clash. The album’s flow is disjointed and it drags a little, particularly towards the end where some of the tracks are by-numbers (slow intro, banging techno, repeat). Drums is a poor opener (2 minute intro on a sub 4 minute song?), Daisy Chains is a Mike-Skinner styled spoken-word tune with a great pop chorus, slightly let down by an overly long and dreary ending, Twist Me Up is probably the album highlight, featuring (and highly influenced by) Suggs and Mike from Madness, it really is Madness 2010 – their customary ska-funk groove techno’d up and revitalized to make it relevant today. Feel Alright sounds like Gorillaz, whilst London Dreamer is another of the better tracks – it’s quirky, dark-pop which sounds like it’s delivered by a depressed circus clown, in a totally brilliant way.

With a disjointed flow and too much filler, this album probably hasn’t been worth the wait, in truth. Although there are some bright moments, it’s not hardcore enough for dance fans, not catchy enough for pop fans and too techno for Brit-rock fans, without a genuinely storming single to generate some attention for a group that have been out of the spotlight for several years, this one’s gonna be a hard sell.