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Gary Numan, O2 Forum, London, 21st October 2015

gary-numan-tubeway-army-replicas-album-cover-full-size-high-resLine-up:
Gary Numan (vocals, guitar, synthesizer)
Steve Harris (guitar)
Tim Muddiman (bass)
Richard Beasley (drums)
Gareth Thomas (synthesizers,keyboards)

Support: I Speak Machine
Tara Busch (vocals, synthesizers, electronics)

Venue:
O2 Forum Kentish Town
9-17 Highgate Road
Kentish Town
London
NW5 1JY

For me, 2015 has been a year of some truly great live music, and this was carried onwards and upwards by the positively sterling performances given by Gary Numan and support artist Tara Busch (aka I Speak Machine) at the O2 Forum in London’s Kentish Town on Wednesday 21st October 2015.

Sometimes, you go to a gig, the music is great, the performances are on the mark and you really enjoy the evening. However, it can sometimes be a little tricky to put into words because, great and all as the night was, a lot of the acts doing the gig circuit start to look and sound the same. I think this is more directed at the newer slew of bands around at the moment such as Lower Than Atlantis, Paris, We Are The Ocean, Peace etc – great musicians, tightly performed sets and solid music but, well, nothing that really makes them stand out from one another or anything that makes them particularly memorable. Then, you get two acts that basically knock the ball out of the park, on the same bill.

Gary Numan is basically a music icon, considered by many as perhaps one of the most influential musical figures of the last 40 years and even at the ripe old age of 57, still very much on top of his game.

gn79I clearly recall, as a spotty-faced, hormonally surgent 13 year old, the very first time I saw Numan, then as part of a combo calling themselves Tubeway Army, making his debut appearance on the sorely missed weekly chart show Top of the Pops. He was performing a song that was to become a genuine, bona-fide classic, “Are Friends Electric?”. Quite frankly, I was totally blown away by what I saw, what I heard and what I experienced. The look and the sound hit such a harmonious chord in me that I was out into Great Yarmouth (when it was a nice place) the following Saturday, armed to the teeth with my pocket money, buying the “Replicas” album purely for the “Are Fiends Electric?” track, without hearing what else the erstwhile Mr. Webb had to offer on it (these are the days when we listened to albums and bought albums for THAT track – older folks amongst you will no doubt smile nostalgically at this). This album was, I suppose, something of a musical epiphany for me and sparked the beginning of a pretty much lifelong admiration and respect for the music of Gary Numan. The rollercoaster fortunes of this man are very well documented and I’m not really sure that there is a need to cover what every other review has covered already, so I won’t, suffice to say, that, along with John Foxx (the very man who he admired and was inspired by), Gary was at the forefront of a new era of music and of public acceptance and assimilation of a new wave within the electronic music genre, paving the way for the million and one acts that would follow.

Fast-forwarding to a new century and a lot of water under the bridge, Gary Numan is still an artistic force to be reckoned with. The move, way back in the mid-1990’s, to a darker and heavier feel to his work has paid dividends on a number of levels, and none more so than with the re-imagining of his earlier works, which was the focus for the three “Classic Albums” concerts he played at the O2 Forum. Each night focused on a particular album, those albums being “Replicas”, “The Pleasure Principle” and “Telekon” and in that order as well. These three albums represented the absolute pinnacle of his earlier success, they are the albums that are held most dear in the hearts of the fans and the albums that paved the way for a host of acts thereafter. I was present at the first night, being the “Replicas” concert and it couldn’t have been a more fitting one for me as “Replicas” was my first Numan album (okay, Tubeway Army for the pedants out there) and to this day, still my favourite Numan (yes, I know, Tubeway Army) album. The fan-girl thing didn’t stop there either, as the support act was none other than I Speak Machine, aka the lovely and quite amazing Tara Busch, whom I was lucky enough to both see in live performance and photograph last year at the Royal Festival Hall (review HERE). This time around, Tara was performing without her usual visual backdrop created by her talented film-maker husband, Maf Lewis. And on top of that, I had been asked to take a photographs during Gary’s set.

classic-tubeway-army-gary-numan-iconography-replicas-back-coverSo, to the venue. Located in North london, the O2 Forum Kentish Town is one of the U.K.’s best-preserved theatres as well as one of London’s top live venues. Built in 1934, it’s an art deco building and according to the venue’s website, it had a:

“35 foot tall proscenium (the part of the stage between the front of the curtain and the orchestra pit) and a 25 foot deep stage. It had six dressing rooms, a Compton organ and a safety curtain weighing 5 tons. It seated 2,175 in stalls and a single balcony. The first floor accommodated a large tea room and dance hall where tea dances took place; there was even a cosmetics room for the lady patrons.”

It was taken over in March 1935 by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) took it over in March 1935, not changing it’s name to ABC until 1963. The ABC cinema closed in 1970, becoming first a bingo hall and then a dance hall. In the 1980’s, it was re-named as the The Town & Country Club and became a very well-known and popular live music venue, a definite must-play location for emerging bands on the independent scene as much as the more well-known ones, such as The Velvet Underground, Pixies, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine and The Wedding Present. 1993 saw it being bought up by The Mean Fiddler Music Group, becoming a Grade II listed building and going back to it’s original name of O2 Forum Kentish Town. Ownership changed again in 2007, when it was bought by the MAMA & Company (formerly MAMA Group), “a U.K.-based entertainment company who own a number of music venues and festivals (see here), artist management companies and other music-related businesses such as the UK’s most widely circulated music magazine, The Fly.” A £1.5 million refurbishment saw standing downstairs remaining, but also a fully seated option, a new P.A. and lighting system, a new bar and an increased capacity of 2300.

And now on to the concert.

garytara211015-11The support act was the excellent I Speak Machine, featuring the acclaimed, accomplished and simply  amazing American singer/composer/performer Tara Busch, as stated earlier, performing without the visuals normally associated with an ISM set. Oh, and you need to know right now, I’m unapologetically biased when it comes to these guys.

Yes, I’m a fan.

Moving on.

Tara has an impressive background, with close links to the Moog synthesizer family and a highly respected standing within the global electronic music world, having created official remixes for Annie Lennox, Gazelle Twin, Bat For Lashes, iamamiwhoami & John Foxx, as well as sound banks for premium software instruments and performances around the world. And talking of which, an I Speak Machine live performance is something you really must see if you get the chance – contemporary and progressive electronica, spiced with acrobatic vocals that are sometimes laced with a resonant vocoder embellishment, and when you have Maf Lewis’ brilliant visuals as well, you are transported off to something of a dystopian cinema-of-yesteryear experience.

garytara211015-3As the smoke gently billowed, Tara cut a solitary silhouette within the mist, surrounded by her electronics and accompanied by “Suzy“, Tara’s workhorse Moog Voyager synthesizer, a festival of LED lights blinking on the subdued stage before the sounds created by this diminutive figure ranged forth. Performing elements of the film-score material used with husband Maf Lewis’ “Gagglebox” and “The Silence” movie shorts, and battling on-stage technical issues, Tara presented a very strong and solid set, maintaining the standard set by the last two occasions I have seen her live. For this reviewer, I Speak Machine was the perfect kind of opening for someone such as Gary Numan, with the almost proto-industrial rhythms and sounds intertwined with wonderfully experimental layered synths and THAT voice. It was a pure pleasure to once again experience Tara’s amazing vocal range in a live situation, going from dark and brooding in one breath, to mysterious and sultry in another, to positively operatic in the next. Further manipulations using a vocoder added a strangely sensuous tension to the natural dynamics of her voice, creating a near “other-world” dimension that  aligns itself with the heady twisted samples and synthetic overlays of the accompanying music. Tara uses her voice as much as she uses the small machines that surround her, the most natural of instruments commanding and yet supported by the quirky synthesized orchestra at her fingertips.

Her vocal is very distinctive and was used to incredible effect on two very interesting covers. The first was Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”, stunningly sinister, claustrophobically dark and probably the best version of this song I have heard outside of the original. The second was a little tune called “Cars” written by some bloke called Gary Numan apparently. In the absolute tara211015-2spirit of what a cover version should be, and in true TB style, Tara took this electronica classic to a new, gritty and brilliantly disturbing level. It had everything to expect from this lady and all the better for it, with her soprano voice taking the high instrumental hook with what seemed little effort, interspersed with her laid-back near-spoken/vocoder-enhanced vocal over a brittle, shattered glass bed of voice samples and insistent synth bass.

There were a few technical issues, not least a poorly-levelled vocal on the main mixing desk, but these things didn’t affect the overall performance at all and acted as a clear demonstration of Tara’s experience and professionalism as she over-came them whilst performing. Generally speaking, Tara’s set was well-received, however there was an element of the audience, probably fuelled by alcohol and closed minds, that didn’t get what was happening before them and sadly exposed their ignorance – a lack of audience respect is an unfortunate aspect of being a support act. But for me and a number of people I spoke to , it was the opening salvo for this night of electronica.garytara211015-15The lights dimmed and at the back of the stage was a very youthful peroxided Numan replicant image, looking down upon the stage and audience, safely entombed within the pyramid of “The Pleasure Principle” and guarded by the red criss-crossed double bars of “Telekon” and the seemingly-traditional crowd chant of “Nuumaaaan” crescendoing with every exalt. Very soon after, a backing track boomed out, and the arrival of Gary Numan was now imminent. Flashes of white light danced around the stage before a blood-red wash of light heralded the full impact of the opening track “Replicas”, and almost immediately we were back to 1979, but with 21st century ears, eyes, sights and sounds.gnsoundcheckGary Numan entered the stage to a rapturous response from the audience, a dark posturing shadow in a crimson veil of light, wielding his Gibson guitar like a modernist reaper collecting the souls of his believers, breathing in the tremendous energy from this hot and sweaty gathering. And so the show began.

garynuman211015-8One of my favourite tracks from “Replicas” was up next. The new reworked versions of Numan’s older material give them a new and very current vibe, none more so than “Me, I Disconnect From You”. As a photographer, I usually have three songs to get the pics and when tracks like this are played, it’s sometimes important to remember what I’m there for as I found myself joining in, possibly to the bemusement of my fellow toggers. It’s a very strong track in it’s original form, but live and with the re-imagining to suit Numan’s current style, it was easily the first of many highlights of this evening.

Between songs, Gary Numan’s banter is sparse, minimal and perfectly right I feel, there were no awkward gaps, the songs flowed well and so it was as we went from “MIDFY” to “The Machman”. I loved the underlying sinister ebb of the original, but it went to a new level of disturbing  with the new arrangement and Numan’s delivery in the splendid lighting that arced around him. All too soon this song was done and “You Are In My Vision” blasted from the speakers followed by another favoured “Replicas” track and the second of this evening’s highlights – “It Must Have Been Years”. This song that has seriously benefitted from the darker and heavier style Gary adopted over his last few releases – “It Must Have Been Years” sounded to me as though it could have been written last year, it’s compositional structure such that it has the hallmarks of a timeless song. The energy that this track created was immense and hit hard – brilliant.

garynuman211015-26One of the many things that enthralled me on this evening, was that Numan had chosen to include the B-sides to the singles (ah, the B-sides – them were the days), and next up was a favourite B-side and yes, the next highlight – “We Are So Fragile”. The moment the pulsing synthesizer bass started, I was there, and from my place in the photographer’s pit (I had a AAA pass and was thrown – quite literally – back into the photo pit by the venue’s security dudes at the end of the fourth song when they saw it – a big shout out to them as well, they were a great bunch) it looked and sounded awesome. The next song was really not one of my favoured songs on the “Replicas” album, but “Praying to the Aliens” took on a new life of its own, the lighting illuminating Numan’s on-stage writhing and posturing movements to great effect making this previously over-looked (on my part) song seriously stand out.

A change of pace as the album’s instrumentals were given an airing – “When the Machines Rock” followed by “I Nearly Married a Human”, showed again how 36 year old pieces of music could be as relevant today as when they were first released. I experienced the former during Numan’s soundcheck (I was attending the concert as the photographer for I Speak Machine – I did say I had a certain bias with them!!!) and it sounded terrific then, but now seeing and hearing it in context of the broader show, it shone with it’s pop-like backing, cheeky little synthesizer lead and Gary playing elements on his Virus synthesizer. “I Nearly Married a Human” is another album favourite and guess what? Yeah, another highlight. This, for me, is a deeply emotional piece of music with it’s sparse drums and cold desolate synthesizers – this live version was very moving and the performance pitch was on the mark as a smiling Gary and his wife Gemma (who was sat next to me), exchanged little messages and looks  – throughout this track, I was mesmerised and the cameras had a little bit of a break.

garynuman211015-29Pure dystopian heaven happened next as the strains of something familiar filled the O2 Forum, and the lighting suggested something was afoot. It was a most splendid tension because the sounds metamorphosed into “Down In the Park”. Again the place erupted and all were carried along on the powerful, earth-shaking hookline. The subject of “rape machines”, a place to eat called “Zom Zom’s”, playing “kill-by-numbers” and chanting “death death death” until the sun cries morning, all became so much more real with the dominating presence of this darker Numan, moving under a wondrously splintered sky of nihilistic LED lighting, his steely vocals embodying the very essence of a Philip K. Dick/William Gibson cross-fusion tale of all the future’s we might (and some would say, should) fear and the powerful shapes of the backing band creating a kind of post-apocalyptic gathering, all watched by the image of Numan, taken during the “Replicas” era from on high at the rear of the stage. Another highlight (like you hadn’t guessed).

All too soon “Down In the Park” was done, a weird transmutated sense of satisfaction prevailing. But no, it didn’t stop there because another B-side was thrown out to us to feed on and it was just great – “Do You Need the Service?”. I was pleasantly surprised, and utterly delighted, at the way in which this song translated to the live scenario, and what an inspired choice to follow what had gone before. From my highly enviable viewpoint, it was clear this was (yet) another crowd pleaser. But the next highlight was a mere few minutes away, and it was the song where it all began for the greater majority of us that were there this night.

garynuman211015-25The roof basically went into orbit as soon as it was quite clear that the iconic “Are Friends Electric?” was about to kick in. I recently read elsewhere on the Louder Than War website that this song could have become something of a millstone around Numan’s neck, but he that had been clever in not allowing “Are Friends Electric?” to define him – I couldn’t agree more. I have seen Numan twice in the last three years, and for many years followed his live side via video, DVD, YouTube etc. and each time you can hear the way in which he has crafted it’s evolution to fit whatever point he has been in his career. As a track, it is required listening as much as it being required playing by Numan and I think, to many, “Are Friends Electric?” is as important to a Numan gig as the national anthem is to an international sports event, it’s that iconic. Tonight, it was magnificent with Numan’s energetic performance seemingly unending, the arms out-stretched one minute then his entire body pretty much wrapped around the microphone stand in the next. This song is personal to many people, and tonight, Numan made it personal to him as he spoke the words “you see, THIS means everything to me” to his adoring audience, with genuine intent and sentiment, and from where I was, I could clearly see the emotions in his face. An electronica anthem if there ever was one.

And that was it for the “Replicas” album part of the evening, I was staggered at how well the songs translated to not just the live scenario, but also to Numan’s darkened and heavier styling. What now? Where can we go from here? I was about to find out as we went into what can only be described as a greatest hits assimilated with a trip down memory lane.

garynuman211015-19“I Die: You Die” from the “Telekon” era took the evening in a new direction, the new arrangements once again favouring the more guitar-based elements of the original track. Another one of my favourite Numan tracks, this kicked off the next part of the concert perfectly, Numan still commanding the centre stage, washed in red light for the verses before shards of piercing white pin spot lights scan the auditorium during the frantic chorus. Fabulous. Another highlight.

No rest or respite, because it’s straight into “Films” from “The Pleasure Principle” album, green and white lights flooding the stage and an under-lit Numan looking dark and menacing whilst singing and then a pouting, head-banging silhouette during the intrumental parts – again this was another song that held neither favour or dislike for me on the original album, but it’s inclusion and power on this night has since caused me to re-visit it. Green turned to red, with the criss-crossed red “Telekon” bars blazing at the back of the stage, for “This Wreckage”, which was the only single from the “Telekon” album; another extremely powerful, near-anthemic rendition and both Numan’s voice and energy showing no sign of abating. I’m almost at the point of using the word “epic” here. But this was a mere warm-up for what came next – “Cars”. Along with “Are Friends Electric?”, this is the Gary Numan that EVERYONE knows, and as with “AFE”, Mr. N has crafted this song to suit his style and to fit the times. The original was very pop, purely synthesizer driven and very much of its time. This new hybrid was the same song, but my, how it has evolved into another electronica anthem, Numan taking to his keyboard towards the end of the song, it was pounding and raw, augmented by bright colourful lighting and a crowd with arms raised in a kind of salute to the song and the man. Simply put, it was- and here, I will now use that word – epic. A very definite highlight.

garynuman211015-38The opening notes of the next song continued the audiences roars at the end of “Cars”. Pumping, insistent, demanding and sharp – it could only be “Metal” from “The Pleasure Principle”. Numan’s performance level matched the persistent rhythm as he travelled the stage between verses, stopping to occasionally head-bang, his blackened hair flying like a fibre optic lamp in a hurricane. Another very powerful performance that led into another favourite of mine, “We Are Glass”. And WOW!!! Another song that has benefitted from Numan’s latest styling, I was taken back to 1980 when as a 15 year old I was blown away by this track, and have loved it ever since. But this was sooo much better!!! I got lost in this and on a couple of videos I have viewed on YouTube of the night, I can see myself, arms raised singing along – yeah I forgot I was there to take pics again – oops!!! And yeah again, another highlight.

The band left the stage, but it was clear Gary Numan hadn’t done with us yet. Nope.garynuman211015-31They returned, Numan strapped on the Gibson and they launched into “Are You Real?” from Numan’s debut album “Tubeway Army”. This was from a time when Gary Numan’s music was more guitar driven and this played very well tonight. His voice was right on the mark, the band were tight and this was probably the only song that was not really any different from the original recording, and hey, that really made no difference at all as it fitted the set and the night perfectly. The song crashed to an end and one of the few moments of Numan speaking followed as he took up an acoustic guitar. Yes, I said acoustic guitar. “You know I’m not a fan of retro”, he said, “but I fucking love this” much to the delight of the audience who then launched into chanting “Numan, Numan, Numan” with GN posing with arms aloft, quite obviously loving and feeding off of the love bombarding garynuman211015-12him. He walked back to the microphone and said “I’m supposed to be an electric legend right? Listen to this shit” before performing a truly brilliant version of “Jo the Waiter” from the “Tubeway Army” album. Again, this is another song that I have loved for many years and to hear it being performed tonight, as the closing track to what had been the most fantastic evening of Numan music I have experienced, basically brought a lump to my throat. Everything about this last song was, for me, perfect and I have to say, with some surprise when considering the simply awesome stuff that had gone before, that this for me as THE highlight. The crowd loved it and very loudly  showed their approval long after its deliberately abrupt ending.

Gary Numan has often stated his discomfort with the in-vogue retro thing that seems be the flavour of the moment, as well as his insistence that he will never do the “Rewind” concerts. I have to say that I’m totally with him. He has newer and far more interesting material to offer, and I personally don’t always want to hear the same songs re-hashed and churned out like a stuck record player, simply because I’m not a person who is sadly stricken with a terminal case of “stuck in the past”, demanding that he only play the “old stuff cos that’s wot the fanz want”. Any artist needs to be able to present material that excites them, the new things they have created that they want to share with the world and expand their repertoire beyond songs that are 35 plus years old. And I salute him for taking this stance, because I’m really not that sure “Rewind” truly presents those artists who take part in their best light, I feel that their individual creative sparks are dampened and the magic of the songs are lost. However, that said, I think the approach Gary Numan has taken with the “Classic Albums” concerts is the right way forward, in pretty much the same way as Ultravox did between 2009 and 2013. The way in which Numan has re-visited these old songs, because that’s exactly what they are, has re-energised them to a whole new level through careful re-working and set-listing. So, he’s done the retro thing, now the fans need to get off their high-horses and properly embrace his newer stuff, as well as giving him the breathing room he needs to continue creating new and more exciting material. For that, I cannot wait.

garynuman211015-3But back to tonight. This was a Numan concert like I have never seen, full of power, energy, nostalgia and reciprocated love between fans and artist. It was VERY evident throughout the gig that Numan was enjoying this night as much as the fans. Gone was the awkward, self-conscious android of too many years ago, and what we had here was a seasoned, confident and relaxed performer who put on an awesome show and enjoyed every last minute of it. Every box was ticked, from the quality of the backing band’s musicianship, the creative and awe-inspiring lighting, the crisp sound to the performance standards of a man that has known nothing but adversity from a blinkered music press that sadly seems to have had it’s taste purely in it’s mouth for the last 40 years. The energy of this 57 year old man was staggering – I’m 7 years his junior and I couldn’t have maintained 10 minutes of what he was doing, let alone closing in on 2 hours!!! His highly distinctive and immediately recognisable, almost metallic voice remained constant and strong throughout – he’s not the best singer, but that doesn’t matter one bit because the greatest singers don’t always have the most perfect voices. His delivery styles ranged from pathos to roaring, from dystopian to positively icy – but you could never doubt for a moment that you were listening to Gary Numan. As a whole, the evening was one of the best for music I’ve enjoyed this year, and the greater majority of those that I have seen have all been fantastic. The choice of I Speak Machine as support was inspired, Tara’s angle on the electronica thing was, for me, the perfect entrée to Numan’s main course – how I would have loved to have seen TB perform with Numan during the show. I’d really like to see that one day. And the dessert for me was meeting Gary after the concert.

I run the risk of sounding like a stuck record, or even a grumpy old man, but yet again, here is an artist to whom newer, younger acts need desperately to look at and to learn from in terms of style, presentation and performance, because Gary Numan has all three of those in bucket loads.

A great artist.

A great show.

A truly memorable experience.garynuman211015-9Links:
Gary Numan
I Speak Machine
Tara Busch
O2 Forum Kentish Town

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Gary Numan – COMING SOON
I Speak Machine

Thank you to:
Tara Busch, Maf Lewis and Gary Numan for letting me be a part of a great evening of music.

Visconti/Woodmansey/Gregory, Norwich Arts Centre, 17th June 2015

The_Man_Who_Sold_the_World_1972_RCA_LPLine-up: 
Tony Visconti (bass)
Mick “Woody” Woodmansey (drums)
Glenn Gregory (vocals)
James Stevenson (guitar)
Paul Cuddeford (guitar)
Terry Edwards (12-string guitar, saxophone, percussion)
Berenice Scott (keyboards)
Lisa Ronson (backing vocals)
Jessica Lee Morgan (backing vocals)
Hannah Berridge (backing vocals, keyboards)

Support:
Philip Rambow (vocals, guitar)

Jessica Lee Morgan (vocals, guitar)
Chris Thomas (bass)

Venue:
Norwich Arts Centre
51 St. Benedict’s Street,
Norwich,
Norfolk
NR2 4PG

TheManWhoSoldtheWorldReleased in the very early 1970’s (November 1970 in the U.S. and April 1971 in the U.K.) by Mercury Records, David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” album was his third studio recording and the musicians involved were, essentially, the buildng blocks of the “Spiders From Mars”, made famous on that other classic Bowie album (with a need to be specific here as they are all classics in their own right – in my opinion of course!!!) “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”. “The Man Who Sold The World” saw Bowie departing from his previous album’s (“Space Oddity”) more folkier leanings and presenting a seriously heavier suite of hard rock songs that is deemed to be where the David Bowie story really started, and some say, spawned a new cult of music – Glam Rock (it can be argued that Marc Bolan started the Glam thing, but that’s a discussion that’s not for here). With it’s political-ish/sci-fi-ish/Lovecraft-ish lyrics, rock guitars and tight production, it cast the mold for successive Bowie albums, a template for what was to come.

“The Man Who Sold The World”, interestingly, didn’t enjoy the kind of commercial success in the U.K. that it did in the U.S. despite reasonably favourable reviews from the music press of the time, there were no singles released from it and the album was never played live at the time of it’s issue. All that said, and taken into consideration, it is often cited as being one of Bowie’s finest albums and influenced a new generation of bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure, Gary Numan, John Foxx and Nine Inch Nails.

Jumping into our musical time machine and forwarding ourselves to 2014, the album’s producer and bassist Tony Visconti and drummer Woody Woodmansey, joined forces with Woodmansey’s Holy Holy, Heaven 17’s Glenn Gregory and an ensemble of high calibre musicians to play a small U.K. tour performing “The Man Who Sold The World” album in it’s entirety and throwing in a few Bowie songs from the same era. It was very well received and so in June 2015, Visconti, Woodmansey, Gregory and crew once again took to the road on a lengthier tour of the U.K., and yes, you’ve guessed it, this review covers their appearance in the fine East Anglian city of Norwich on the 17th June.

The venue for tonight’s performance was the Norwich Arts Centre, a small, independently run venue with charitable status, sited close as it is, to the centre of Norwich. The NAC is located in a converted church (originally called St. Swithin’s, built in 1349 and with many of it’s original features still intact) and has an auditorium that can hold both seated and standing events. Considering it’s size, it hosts a surprisingly diverse and vibrant mix of live music, theatre, live art, comedy and live literature, actively supporting creativity and creating opportunities for the development of new talent. There is also a highly cultural mix in their programming, offering as they do a wide range of presentations that cover rock and pop, world, jazz and folk music, alongside rising comedy stars, performance opportunities, children’s theatre and creative workshops. It has a very intimate, but engaging atmosphere and creates a cool feeling of involvement when watching a performance, such is the close proximity to the stage.

The support for the evening consisted of two half-hour performances from Philip Rambow and Jessica lee Morgan.

viswoodgregnac17615-16Canadian singer/songwriter Philip Rambow quietly came to the stage for a one man and his guitar performance – and what a performance. The quality of Philip’s set comes as no surprise when you take into account his background, his original U.K. band, The Winkies, influenced The Clash and he has collaborated with the likes of Kirsty MacColl, Brian Eno, Mick Ronson (a name that will surface again in the coming paragraphs) and Ellen Foley, in a career that has, according to Philip’s website, been an “eclectic and exciting musical journey”. His style of a cross-fusion of rock and folk really worked well in the context of the headline act with good songs and a great voice.

viswoodgregnac17615-19Next up was Jessica Lee Morgan. And what an interesting lady she was too. The daughter of Tony Visconti and singer Mary Hopkin, Jessica was joined on stage by bassist Chris Thomas, effortessly performing a memorable collection of acoustic folky songs with sincerity, a smile and an obvious passion for what she does. All in all, quite delightful. Jessica later joined the headline act as one of the three backing vocalists.

The turnaround between the support acts was quick, so there was no lengthy waiting and this continued through to the headline act. A few restrained bars of classical music (it sounded like Beethoven) played as the band came on stage, picked up their instruments and played their hearts out for the best part of two hours. The line-up was what one could only describe as high calibre and as impressive as the evening’s performance. It was also a line-up that was definitely something of a family affair, as you will see!!! Up front was lead vocalist Glenn Gregory (lead singer with Heaven 17 as you probably already know if you follow this website), on guitars viswoodgregnac17615-6were Paul Cuddeford (who has played guitar with Sir Tom Jones, Sir Bob Geldof, Ian Hunter, McFly, Cat Stevens and Paul Young to name but a few) and James Stevenson (having played guitar with amongst many others Chelsea, Gen X, Gene Loves Jezebel, The Alarm, Kim Wilde and The Cult). On bass was the legendary producer Tony Visconti who, alongside producing artists such as Marc Bolan and T-Rex, The Moody Blues, Ralph McTell, Sparks, Thin Lizzy and the Kaiser Chiefs, also produced and played bass on “The Man Who Sold The World” album  as well as producing much of the rest of David Bowie’s catalogue. On drums was Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, who played on a number of David Bowie’s earliest albums and, along with guitarist Mick Ronson, was a member of the original Spiders from Mars who backed David Bowie on the corresponding album and subsequent tours. And speaking of the late great Mick Ronson, he was very well represented by his daughter Lisa Ronson and niece Hannah Berridge on backing vocals (Hannah also playing keyboards), alongside Jessica Lee Morgan (Tony Visconti’s daughter – see, I told you it was a family affair). On 12-string guitar, percussion and saxophone was the very talented Terry Edwards (worked with PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Department S, Lydia Lunch, Tom Waits, The Blockheads and Hot Chip) and on keyboards was Berenice Scott (keyboardist with Heaven 17 and daughter of Robin Scott who enjoyed success with the iconic “Pop Muzik” in 1979 under the moniker of “M”). A line-up such as this carries a lot of promise, and let me tell you before I go any further, that promise was delivered, and then some.

viswoodgregnac17615-22The evening’s performance was basically split into two, the first half being the tracks that made up “The Man Who Sold The World”, performed in the same order as they were on the album. So, things kicked off straight away with “The Width of a Circle”, played fatihfully to the original with the feel and spirit of a Bowie performance, not least because of Paul Cuddeford’s guitar. And Glenn Gregory had this audience on side from this first song, his interpretation spot on because he sung it, as he did the rest of the set, as Glenn Gregory and not David Bowie, something that people I spoke to after the gig really felt was a massive plus for the evening. Following this was “All the Madmen”, deliriously performed by Glenn, capturing the lyrically manic nature of the original and a splendidly crunchy rendition of “Black Country Rock”. “After All” was perfectly handled, the near-gothic weirdness of the original captured with Glenn’s vocal hitting that “on the edge” feel, one of a number of highlights for this reviewer. I was impressed with Glenn Gregory’s note perfect handling of “Running Gun Blues”, singing rock vocals was something I had never really considered hearing from him, but tonight was an eye-opener in the most viswoodgregnac17615-23positive sense. “Saviour Machine” was one of a number of tracks that I had been looking forward to hearing, being a fan of sci-fi (the song is about machines controlling society etc). It’s a complex piece with time signatures and chord structures that challenge the listener and the performer alike, so it pleases me to say that it was right on the money. Another song that really suited Glenn Gregory’s vocal – again I have to emphasise that he did not perform it in any way as a kind of Bowie tribute, but as himself. The next track was “She Shook Me Cold” – another highlight for me. Guitarist James Stevenson really blew the whole thing onto another level with his Ronson inspired solo during this song, throwing himself into it with much harmonically screaming gusto – I was standing in front of him at the time and it was seriously top drawer stuff. And then the title track. Another highlight. Glenn Gregory’s performance, stage presence and vocal intonation (that again did NOT copy Bowie) really made this song stand out for me, as well as the ethereal backing vocals from the Ronsonettes or perhaps Viscones, they didn’t quite decide on what they were called. The last song on the album and for this part of the set was, of course, the fabulous fabulous fabulous “The Supermen” (yes I like this song), gloriously and shamelessly Lovecraft throughout. And it was brilliantly performed by everyone; Glenn captured the maniacal edginess of the viswoodgregnac17615-28original (still not being Bowie, but being Gregory), the guitarists relentlessly drove it forward, Tony Visconti’s insistent bass provided a solid underpin, Woody Woodmansey worked it like a demon and the backing vocalists sold the near operatic backing. A really cool ending to this first part, a small group of people close to where I was standing enthusiastically claimed it sounded better than the original. Me? I could have listened to it all over again, along with the rest of this part of the evening. “The Man Who Sold The World” was a tragically under-rated album, it was where Bowie found his voice and everything fell into place for the Ziggy Stardust era. Tonight’s ensemble gave it new life and made a 45 year old collection of songs sound fresh whilst still staying true to the original arrangements.

But it wasn’t over.

No.

Not by a long chalk.

We now went into a kind of “greatest hits” of the 1969-1974 Bowie era with, it seemed at one point, a lot of emphasis on “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” album – and why not, it’s another Bowie classic (perhaps even another tour?). “Five Years”, “Soul Love” and “Moonage Daydream” exploded from the PA, hands were in the air and the audience was singing-along-a-Glenn, the already electric atmosphere turned up a notch. Another highlight followed in the form of a medley comprising “Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud” (from the “Space viswoodgregnac17615-36Oddity” album), “All the Young Dudes” (the audience nearly drowning out the band with “that” chorus and in my opinion, much better than the Bowie/Mott the Hoople versions) and “Oh! You Pretty Things” (from “Hunky Dory” and showing again how tight the band was). Then another highlight – Lisa Ronson taking lead vocals on “Lady Stardust”. Her vocal was perfectly suited to the song and it was quite an emotional performance. Glenn Gregory returned to the stage and introduced a very interesting young lady called Vita Ross (from up-and-coming electro-pop/rock band Vita and the Vicious), before they performed a positively blinding rendition of “Watch That Man” (from the “Aladdin Sane” album). Vita gave a very assured and confident performance, positively sizzling and clearly enjoying every single moment of her time on stage – and with that line-up who wouldn’t!!! The chemistry between Glenn and Vita was electric and with it possibly being something of a one-off, I for one, was very glad to have been there to enjoy it – the viswoodgregnac17615-38response from the crowd was nothing short of positive and I heard a lot of good things being said about Vita – a nice one for young lady’s CV methinks. The opening bars of “Life On Mars” (from “Hunky Dory”) brought the place down and we all had no choice but to join in, once again giving the band a run for their money in the volume stakes, the nostalgia factor running high on this one before we got another highlight. “Ziggy Stardust”. As soon as that guitar riff played and Glenn Gregory “oooh’d” before singing that classic first line……”And Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly and The Spiders from Mars”, the Norwich Arts Centre became a place of pure time travel as we experienced 1972 in 2015 – I found it interesting that this song, along with pretty much the whole of the rest of the set, didn’t sound dated unlike many other songs from the 1970’s and other eras such as the 1980’s, interesting in that these arrangements were the same as the originals and not re-hashed to suit modern tastes/styles etc. Obviously this is why these songs are true classics as they are proving quite timeless. Anyway, I’m digressing. The nostalgia vein continued with another crowd pleaser in the form of “Changes” – that opening piano/string phrase never sounded so good. This was another iconic Bowie song that Glenn Gregory, again, made his own, his stagecraft as well as his vocal undeniably good. And yes, we all j-j-joined in with the chorus. After this, Glenn informed us that this was the point at which they would normally go off stage whilst we, the attended throng, would shout, yell and clap for more and they would return with a couple of songs to finish the evening off. However, the Norwich Arts Centre isn’t a big place and the area to which they would go whilst we shouted, yelled and clapped, was quite small and would take too long to do. So, he told us that they would turn their backs to us whilst we shouted, yelled and clapped for  more, and if it was loud enough, they viswoodgregnac17615-14would turn around and do another couple of numbers. So, they turned around with their backs to us. We shouted. We yelled. We clapped. They turned around then started with perhaps the most emotionally charged song of the night, “Rock and Roll Suicide” from the “Ziggy Stardust” album. Closing in on two hours, Glenn Gregory’s voice wasn’t faltering, something I picked up on when I saw him with Heaven 17 a couple of weeks back. Another crowd pleaser with hands in the air, the audience singing at some volume and the immortal line of this song, the screamed “you’re not alone”, was probably heard in Wales. The last two songs came in the form of a medley. First up was “Time” (from the “Aladdin Sane” album), executed with precision and capturing the fabulously manic feel of the original, providing the perfect lead into the final song of the night. The guitarists kicked it off with Terry Edwards’ persistent sax adding to the tension before Glenn Gregory launched into “Suffragette City”. It was raw, dirty, aggressive and full on, the volume cranked up to 12 and no prisoners being taken. I bloody loved it. And I just don’t know that any other song could have finished off this incredible evening of music. Talk about “wham bam thank you ma’am”!!!

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Okay, I’ve waxed very lyrical in this blow-by-blow account of the set, which is all very well, but I feel a certain responsibility to explain why I was so impressed by this gig. For one, great support artists that had connections with the headline act and performed music that provided the right kind of pathway to the final destination. Secondly, an ensemble of revered and highly talented viswoodgregnac17615-9professionals, all connected and all pulling in the same direction. Thirdly, this wasn’t a cheap tribute act, this wasn’t about a group of aging musos trying to recapture/cash in on past glories and this wasn’t a gig that was trying to pretend that it was anything other than what it was – this was a group of seasoned professionals playing timeless songs their way whilst keeping to the original arrangements. And lastly, my three-part equation to the secret of a successful gig – style, performance and presentation. These are three things I will always bang on about, because I genuinely believe that to miss just one of these, which I have seen so many newer, as well as established, bands doing, leaves a gig wanting. Tonight, the style was there – these people looked good, plain and simple. The performance was without question the whole way through. Of note were Glenn Gregory (naturally) who has a certain stage presence that demands you look at him and he carried off viswoodgregnac17615-3the songs like they were his own; guitarists James Stevenson and Paul Cuddeford giving it good with their performances, both of them throwing the kind of the shapes (I swear I will soon have Tim Dorney charging me royalties for that expression!!!) you want to see from a rock guitarist; Tony Visconti playing it cool throughout, yet throwing the shapes when you least expect it; the one song appearance of Vita Ross who came a little bit close to stealing the show, she was loving it, it showed; and of course, Woody Woodmansey, every inch the rock drummer and completely at one with his drum kit throughout the evening. And so to the third part of my gig formula – presentation – this was a show with no flashy lights or video backdrops (not that there’s anything wrong with flashy lights and video backdrops), this was a show that relied completely on the music and the artists. It scored on both points – lights and video weren’t necessary. But the one thing really that stood out for me most of all and that was very apparent all the way through the evening, was that these people were really enjoying what they were doing – they smiled, they laughed and they got into the music, unafraid to let it show – that’s seriously infectious stuff.

So, another fantastic evening of quality music, professionally presented and expertly executed. I was fortunate enough to have a quick chat with Glenn Gregory just before he went on stage. I said that “The Man Who Sold The World” was one of my favourite Bowie albums, and he laughed telling me that he didn’t want to hear that because of expectations, well Glenn, no need to worry, from the people I spoke to after the gig, it’s fair to say that their expectations were exceeded. I also asked him how he felt the tour was going at this stage, of which he was very positive, telling me that he was enjoying it all and that he felt it was a great show. Well I have to disagree, it isn’t a great show, it’s a fantastic show, and you need to go and see it if you can.

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Links:
HOLY HOLY
JESSICA LEE MORGAN
NORWICH ARTS CENTRE

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Visconti/Woodmansey/Gregory and support

The Boomtown Rats/Republica, The Junction, Cambridge, 3rd November 2014

boomtownratscambs311140026acopyrightLine-up:
The Boomtown Rats:
Bob Geldof (vocals, harmonica)
Pete Briquette (bass)
Simon Crowe (drums)
Garry Roberts (guitar)
Unknown (keyboards)
Unknown (guitar)

Republica (special guests):
Saffron Sprackling (vocals)
Tim Dorney (keyboards)
Jonny Glue (guitar)
Conor Lawrence (drums)

Venue:
The Junction
Clifton Way
Cambridge
CB1 7GX

There has been something of a plethora of bands who achieved varying levels of success, fame and acclaim during the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, reforming and then hitting the gigging circuit, spreading their own measures of nostalgic fairy dust along the way. Some have done it better than others, and maybe some should have just left things as they were and remembered the good times. And then there are others who do it, you don’t think it will amount to much and then wham!!! Yes, you’re on your backside, your head is head spinning and you’re feeling totally wowed.

That pretty much sums up the entire evening of Monday 3rd November 2014, when seminal naughy-step 1970’s New Wave schoolboys, The Boomtown Rats, still fronted by yer actual Sir Bob Geldof (he of Band Aid/Live Aid fame), brought their own particular brand of post-punk anarchy to The Junction music venue in Cambridge, with special guests, the irresistably alternative electronic rock band Republica, getting things very ably warmed up for the headline act.

republicacambs311140029acopyrightWhilst being seen by many as a “re-formed 1990’s band”, it’s fair to say that Republica were not a band that really split up. They enjoyed a run of top twenty singles between 1996 and 1999, including the ever-green “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and the seminal indie electro-rock anthem “Ready To Go”, as well as positive press reactions at the time. With only two albums under their belts, Republica went into hiatus after the label they were signed to went out of business in 2001. Fortunately for the rest of us, they restarted the machinery in 2008 with an appearance at a Contra Mundum concert in Windsor, with pictures of the band “in the studio” appearing on their official Facebook page in 2010. Their first release in fifteen years came in 2013 with the E.P. “Christina Obey”. Taking to the stage at The Junction on this night were Saffron (lead vocals), Tim Dorney (keyboards), Jonny Glue on guitar and Conor Lawrence on drums. From the opening notes of “From Rush Hour With Love”, Republica enthralled and entertained, performing the songs that cemented their original ascendency to fame alongside newer tracks such as “Hallelujah”, “German Accent” and the fabulous “Christina Obey”. Every track gelled and oozed the Republica sound which both sounded and felt as fresh today as it did 15 or more years ago, bursting with their signature techno-rock sound. Saffron, looking better than ever, was as effervescent and energetic as she ever was, playing to the crowd beautifully and taking no prisoners as she belted out the anthemic Republica songs with the right sort of gusto and controlled aggression that the Cambridge seemed to want. Republica have mastered the three most important elements of a great gig – style, presentation and performance, so basically, this is a band you have to see live.

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The Boomtown Rats enjoyed a string of top twenty singles between 1977 and 1980 including two number ones with “Rat Trap” and the controversially brilliant “I Don’t Like Mondays”, as well as silver (“The Boomtown Rats” and “The Fine Art of Surfacing”), gold (“Mondo Bongo”) and platinum (“A Tonic For The Troops”) albums. The chart achievements of The Rats has been somewhat eclipsed by the astoundingly relentless charity work of lead singer Bob Geldof, who co-wrote “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” with Ultravox’s Midge Ure and was the driving force behind the historic global charity concert “Live Aid”. And of course, he had the lead role in the film version of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”.

boomtownratscambs311140002acopyrightAnyway, the concert tonight saw the Rats line up consisting of original members Bob Geldof (lead vocals), Pete Briquette (bass), Simon Crowe (drums) and Garry Roberts (guitar), as well as two tour recruits on guitar and keyboards. The set started with a video sequence on a big graphics display at the back of the stage, showing re-worked album covers, members of the band, the Rats’ logo and even at one point a rat being shot (many gasps in the audience for that one!!!), before the gathered throng raised the roof as the band came on stage, kicking things off with “(I Never Loved) Eva Braun”. The hits poured out of the P.A. system at break-neck speed, with Bob Geldof up there being, not acting, just being, the definitive front man. Whatever your thoughts or views about Bob, whether you love him or loathe him, none of that matters one wit when he’s on that stage in front of you – his stage presence is quite simply massive. He struts back and forth across the front of the stage like a defiant punk peacock, resplendent in a “fake snakeskin suit”, wild hair and, to quote Tim Dorney of Republica (I’m such a name dropper!!!), throwing out some interesting shapes with his gestures and poses. The close-to- sell-out crowd could just not get enough. At 63 years of age, it’s a safe bet to say that he’s still got it. An hour and a half of classic Rats tunes and anthems followed covering the hits boomtownratscambs311140014acopyrightsuch as “Rat Trap”, “Like Clockwork”, “She’s So Modern”, “Mary of the Fourth Form”, “Looking After Number One”, “Someone’s Looking At You”, “Banana Republic” and of course, the legendary “I don’t Like Mondays” which saw Bob starting something of a sing-a-long, which we of course all joined in with because you don’t not sing-a-long-a-Bob!!! Every song was performed in the way in which it was originally written, they were performed with precision and prowess and certainly to my total surprise (a pleasant one I must add), sounding as fresh today as they sounded back in the post-punk/New Wave era of the late 1970’s. Between songs, Bob raconteured and interacted with the crowd, telling a whole manner of stories, including the reasons for the “fake snakeskin suit” – entertaining, funny and totally Bob.

So far it’s all been about Bob, but mention has to be made of the other band members who put in an equally full on performance. You couldn’t help but see that these guys were enjoying every minute of this gig, they played each others’ instruments, dived about the stage and threw those interesting shapes with exacting gusto. And you have to keep in mind that these guys are all hitting 60 years of age – I’ve seen bands with average ages only a third of that who couldn’t give and perform as the Rats did tonight. And that graphics back drop really set the scene for each song, adding quirky cartoon graphics, video clips et al – all said and done, it could be whispered that we had too much to look at, but I’m not the complaining sort.

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The set ended with “Rat Trap” which sent the crowd into overdrive which saw Bob and the Rats return for a three-song encore comprising “Me and Howard Hughes” (a curious choice, but boy did it work!!!), “Diamond Smiles” and a new mega-clubby/techno-ish track called “The Boomtown Rats” which brought the roof down.

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In short, the Boomtown Rats are a must-see act, end of story – if they’re playing their brand of original old-skool, high-octane New Wave near you – go, you’ll be very glad you did. It’s fair to say that a lot of the new, younger bands around on the gigging circuit at this time would do well to see the Rats do their thing because they have those all-important three elements of what constitutes a great show that I mentioned earlier – style, presentation and performance.

Links:
THE BOOMTOWN RATS
REPUBLICA

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
The Boomtown Rats
Republica

Nils Frahm, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 26th October 2014

Line-up:
nilsfrahmepic2610140001acopyright
Nils Frahm (piano, synthesizers, electronics)

Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

Now, this gig was something of a really cool departure from the previously experienced performances as Nils Frahms’ music is of an instrumental nature, combining classical and electronic music. He is noted for his unorthodox use of piano, because he mixes grand piano and upright piano with a Roland Juno 60 synthesizer, a Rhodes electric piano, a drum machine and Moog Taurus bass pedals, and he doesn’t use any kind of loop or pre-recorded playback.

I am very familiar with and quite partial to Nils’ work, so was delighted to have the opportunity to catch one of his live performances, of which I had read much about, at what has become my second home, Epic Studios in Norwich.

nilsfrahmepic2610140003acopyrightTo give a little background, Nils Frahm is a 32 year old German musician, composer and producer, presently based in Berlin. And take it from me, he is annoyingly talented, as he ably demonstrated during this concert. He has a very relaxing, self-effacing demeanour, quietly spoken and of gentle but funny humour, also demonstrated during this concert. Alongside his solo work, he has also collaborated with performers such as Anne Müller, Ólafur Arnalds and F.S. Blumm.

So to the performance. There was no support act, no great fanfare prior to his entrance onto the gear-laden stage. Nils walks onto the stage dressed in striped t-shirt, rolled up jeans and trainers. You kind of get the notion that this wasn’t going to be your usual concert/recital. He picks up a mic and introduces himself and his gear (some of which apparently is almost “kaput”), then proceeds to start the evening with a piece called “Says”, possibly the most spell-binding music I’ve ever heard performed live, a weird fusion of electronics with electric piano and a gentle arpeggiated synth texture. You almost want to think that the music is too quiet, and I was very conscious of using my camera lest I break the spell that Frahm had quickly and masterfully cast. But it isn’t too quiet, it’s just right and any louder would not have been right. The repetitive arpeggiations of the Juno 6 synthesizer are quite hypnotic and Nils’ simple Rhodes melodies add to this seductive atmosphere. A gentle crescendo builds, Nils’ subtle abuses of the tape-based echo unit create a near dissonant far-away place, but nothing takes over or dominates before it all starts falling back into nothing. Nils Frahm has got us right where he wants us.

nilsfrahmepic2610140007acopyrightFrom here on, we are exposed to his more techno side (amazing), we get a piece that was written after he had fallen out of bed and broken a finger, so went onto write a piece of music for nine fingers (amazing), and we even get a piece called “For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More” whereupon Nils starts to bash, brush and scrape the insides of the grand piano with a pair of toilet brushes (amazing – starting to really dislike him now). Virtuoso piano pieces follow dreamy, ambient, chillout, beat-driven pieces follow piano textured, near tone poems. The broad range of moods and styles creates a truly morphic performance, each piece easily blending into the next, segued with Nils’ brief but quirky narratives. The music goes from dark to euphoric, from thoughtful to demanding, from vague and almost atonal to grand and melodic. As a musician, I feel music as much as I hear it, and on several occasions throughout the performance I found myself riding crests of immense waves, then moved to the point of tears, such was the emotive scale, scope  and beauty of what I was listening to and experiencing. For a part of the concert, I stood with one of the owners of the venue, and she was as drawn in  and mesmerised as the rest of us.

nilsfrahmepic2610140008acopyrightAnd what of presentation and performance? Well, one man with a couple of pianos and several bits of gear can’t be that interesting. Ordinarily, that would be true, but again, Nils Frahm knows how to create the scene, paint the picture and visualise the music, and he does this like he does with most other things I have seen on this night, subtly, delicately and skilfully. A few white floods, occasionally dipped to conjure up the ambience of warmth, lighting that was as sparse as the music, yet equal in it’s beauty. Often swathed in nothing more than dry ice and white light, Nils Frahm played as a neo-classical virtuoso, his concentration completely unbreakable as he breathed each and every moment of this performance, and an intensity that you feel could snap at any given moment. This concert wasn’t just music, it was performance art and the rapturous applause that exploded at the end was a testament to this young man’s uncompromising talent.

Whatever way I put it, whatever way I express it, the basic premise will always come back to the fact that, quite simply, Nils Frahm is a must-see.

Links:
NILS FRAHM

EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Nils Frahm

Kosheen, Epic Studios, Norwich Norfolk, 25th October 2014

Line-up:
kosheenepic2510140006acopyrightKosheen:
Sian Evans (vocals)
Markee Ledge (guitar,keyboard)
Mitch Glover (drums)

Catnip and Claws (support):
Emma Catnip

 Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

A night of 90’s vibe electronica at Epic Studios in Norwich with electronic dance band Kosheen and support from local electronic music maker Catnip and Claws. Kosheen were not  band I fully got into or knew very much about, other than what I saw or heard when they were at their height, and the support act, though apparently from Norwich, was completely unknown to me. And so I entered the main auditorium, unprepared for what the evening had in store for me.

catnipnclwsepic2510140001acopyrightFirst up was Catnip and Claws, and I have to confess to immediate heart-sink as it looked as though it was going to be a kind of DJ set – the nightmare of Chase and Status was coming back to get me!!! However, I was pleasantly surprised (and hugely relieved) to see that this was not the case and what we had was a live electronica set, consisting of a lovely young lady by the name of Emma Catnip who describes herself as “just a girl making modern nostalgia”. Armed with a PC (that crashed, in a most epic fashion, about 5 minutes into the set, but we’ll skip over that) and a handful of MIDI controllers, Miss Catnip soon had the beats pounding and the tunes mashing and flying around everywhere, courtesy of her dextrous pot and fader handling. The set had a definite 90’s vibe to it, but Emma’s use of effects and controllers soon added a most definite 21st century sheen and dynamic quality as she morphed and mashed her abundance of breaks and beats that had your eyes spinning like reels on a fruit machine – in a very good way. On top of a great set that provided a suitable warm up for the headline act, it was good to see a female electronic music artist in action, there’s too few of them in my view. And great that she’s a local girl too. A little scan of her profile reveals that she’s making cool progress and most definitely one to watch,

So, with a nice warm up from Catnip and Claws, it was soon time for Kosheen. As I said earlier, I knew of them, but had no firm idea of what they did live, so it was good to see something that, for me, was fresh and something that I could approach with an open mind.

kosheenepic2510140005acopyrightThe turnout was good and so there was an expectant atmosphere which really helped things and a big cheer went up as they came on stage and went straight into the music with no messing and taking no prisoners. Sian Evans was a front-woman through and through. Her vocals were spot on and she showed no signs of wavering throughout her energetic performance, and clearly enjoying herself. She did the repartee with the audience, she got into the music and she shared the stage with the other two band members. Impressive, that’s all I have to say. The drummer, Mitch Glover, was on the mark from the start with controlled precision drumming, playing to sequenced beats and breaks (not always the easiest things for a drummer to do) and driving the entire set like a jack-hammer. I will say that had he not have been a part of the band, I’m not sure the set would have had such a dynamic feel to it – okay, I suppose that is something of an obvious statement, but there are a number of acts of this nature that use programmed rhythms and something is definitely lost. On guitar and electronics was Markee Ledge, mysterious in his shades and looking not unlike a reject from Oasis (in my book, to be a reject from Oasis is a GOOD thing), and I was impressed by the way in which he maintained a good live sound with a clever combination of synths and pre-programmed material throughout- in other words I didn’t feel cheated in terms of actual performance.

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The set consisted of a well-balanced and solidly paced mix from Kosheen’s five studio albums, and having listened to the albums since the gig, I can tell you that they translated very well to the live arena. Highlights of the evening were the hit song “Hide U” which was very well received, “(Slip & Slide) Suicide” and “Damage” which was one of the slower paced songs and saw a fantastic performance from Sian Evans. One of the things that really impressed me about kosheenepic2510140008acopyrightKosheen was that they are, whether you like or not, an electronic dance band (and if we’re being quite honest with ourselves, those sort of bands don’t always come across great live), but along with the likes of Faithless, they are very much an electronic dance band that has broken the mould and proven themselves to be as credible on stage as they are in the studio. That’s no mean feat in this day and age of plastic, manufactured, auto-tuned mime artists. There was no stunning light show, no intense video backdrop or out-of-this-world onstage theatrics. No, what you got was a serious act comprised of competent artists combining sequenced and played parts with a strong front-person whose personality was as big as the venue.

Kosheen got a new fan that night.

Me.

Links:
KOSHEEN

CATNIP AND CLAWS
EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Kosheen
Catnip and Claws

The Blockheads, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 17th October 2014

Line-up:
theblockheadsepic1710140006acopyrightThe Blockheads:
Derek “The Draw” Hussey (vocals)
Chaz Jankel (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals)
Norman Watt-Roy (bass, backing vocals)
Johnny Turnbull (guitar, backing vocals)
Gilad Atzmon (saxophone)
John Roberts (drums)
Seamus Beaghan (keyboards)

Eva Black (support):
Sam Norfolk (vocals, guitar)
Dave Warren (guitar)
Olly Simmonds (drums)
Kev Goff (bass)

Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

After the less-than-enjoyable experience that was Chase and Status the previous week, I was delighted to have found my musical gate of golden light in the form of the phenomenon that is The Blockheads. On this evening, the consistently excellent Epic Studios played host to a night of excellent music, performed (yes, performed) by proper musicians who were playing proper instruments. No backing tracks, tape sync or computers, actual live performance.

So, here we go.

evablkepic1710140003acopyrightThe support were a local outfit called Eva Black. And mighty fine they were too, playing some excellent alternative rock to get things warmed up, a good tight, polished and clearly well-rehearsed set. Sam Norfolk did an excellent job on lead vocals with some very strong guitar work from Dave Warren. Checking out their Facebook page, they do seem to be regular performers in and around the area, so if you get a chance to see them, do so, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

And so to our main act. The Blockheads.

theblockheadsepic1710140021acopyrightMistakenly, when you talk about The Blockheads, the first thing you kind of think of is Ian Dury and quite likely, “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”. That’s great as far as it goes, and whilst Ian Dury was, without any doubt, one of the finest lyricists of his time, his “sound” was that of The Blockheads. And this evening’s performance sealed the deal for me on that one. Personal opinion, but there you go.

It all kicks off when Derek “The Draw” Hussey walks up to the mic, and says “we are The Blockheads and we sound like this……” and we get to hear exactly what The Blockheads sound like – slick, professional and tight. I’ll confess that I’ve never seen The Blockheads live,  with or without Ian Dury, but loved the music and have all the albums (including their very latest one “Same Horse Different Jockey” released in 2013 – get it!!!), so this evening was a real icing on the cake experience for me.

theblockheadsepic1710140010acopyrightDid it matter that Ian Dury wasn’t front-manning it all? No. “The Draw” is about as good as it gets for a band of The Blockheads stature and prowess. He didn’t try to be Ian Dury, he didn’t try to sing like Ian Dury and he didn’t try to make you think he was trying be or trying to sound like Ian Dury. He looked and sounded the part of the perfect front-man for a band of this nature, presenting the persona of a retired hippy wide-boy with long silver hair and beard to match, Ray-Ban style sunglasses (later changed to a circle-rimmed pair with laser etched peace symbols), the gravelly London twang and perhaps the only truly discernible nod to Mr. Dury, was a white scarf that he hung over the mic stand. I’ve seen him described as Cockney Kris Kristofferson, and yeah, not far wrong. He performed the set with very apparent ease, a wonderfully dry/wry sense of humour and consummate professionalism. This is all adds up to the fact that Mr. Hussey has seriously filled the shoes of the afore-mentioned Mr. Dury, and it shouldn’t really come as any surprise because the gentlemen were good friends and The Draw was Ian’s minder.

theblockheadsepic1710140012acopyrightWe were treated a nicely balanced mixture of newer material (demonstrating The Draw’s more than very acceptable wordsmith skills) and the “classic” songs. Every song was performed with utmost skill, performance and style, all members of the band really giving it their all, not least Norman Watt-Roy, a man who gave his bass guitar more life and character than I’ve ever seen in a bassist and gave pure performance throughout with no let up. These truly are group of  proper musicians, performing a solid fusion of pop, funk, jazz and good old rock ‘n’ roll music that has unquestionably stood the test of time, all of which was genuinely appreciated by the audience, particularly when legendary songs such as “Billiericay Dickie”, “Wake Up And Make Love With Me” and “Clever Trevor” were played. Newer songs such as “Look the Other Way”, “Boys Will Be Boys” and “Undercover” fitted in seamlessly with the likes of “Plaistow Patricia”, “The Inbetweenies” and “I Want To be Straight”.

theblockheadsepic1710140003acopyrightSo, highlights. Tough one as there were so many, but of course we have to look to the more iconic tracks such as “What A Waste” and the dual personalitied “Sweet Gene Vincent” which brought the roof down.  “Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Reasons To Be Cheerful part 3” never sounded better, as though they were written for live performance alone – sterling vocal work by The Draw on these two. The number that closed the evening was “Blockheads” and again, it gained a whole new lease of life live. But the one song that really stood out for me was “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick”. Okay okay, beat me with it now for being so passé, the thing is I really don’t care so get over it, because this song really showed everything that is so fantastic about The Blockheads from the voice of The Draw, the keyboard work of Seamus Beaghan and the guitaristings of Messrs Jankel and Turnbull to the insanely brilliant and frenetic bassings of Norman Watt-Roy and sax work of Gilad Atzmon, at one point the latter was playing two saxes!!!

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All in all, a great gig, in a great venue. One slightly dour note was that the promoters had booked The Blockheads into three venues in as many days in less than a 30 mile radius which hit audience numbers markedly – in my opinion that’s bad. Bad for the venues, bad for the band and bad for audiences, perhaps a little more thought should have been applied which would have seen better attendances. However, the sound of Epic Studios was once again fantastic and walking around talking to people, that seemed to be the consensus of opinion with many stating that it would be great to see a continuation of the big name acts using Epic Studios. I echo that completely.

Links:
THE BLOCKHEADS

EVA BLACK
EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
The Blockheads

Chase & Status, Epic Studios, Norwich, Norfolk, 10th October 2014

casepic1010140018acopyrightLine-up:

Chase & Status:
Saul Milton
Will Kennard (in name only)
MC Rage

Dimension (support)

Venue:
Epic Studios
112-114 Magdalen Street
Norwich
Norfolk
NR3 1JD
U.K.

Okay, I’m going to be up front from the beginning here – I found it really difficult to write this piece because, essentially, I’m not really sure I saw a performance of any kind that I could adequately respond to, and I have genuinely struggled to be as positive as I have in my views. I was told by several people “in the know” that these guys were the “ones to see” and that “they filled stadiums”. And you know, whilst drum ‘n’ bass isn’t my thing, I was actually quite looking forward to this, such was the promise of what I had been told.

casepic1010140003acopyrightAll I saw on this night were two very mediocre DJ sets.

Dimension was the first on and basically, all he did was just stand there playing a load of “tunes” and every now and again, he actually raised his arm in salute. Without wishing to be unkind or rude, I can honestly say that I have seen far more animated and entertaining wedding DJ’s. Ultimately, that was it and all that I can really say is that it was dull, lacklustre and boring.

Anyway, keep an open mind I thought, the main act will obviously show why the tickets were the price they were and why Chase and Status enjoy the success they do.

Oh dear.

casepic1010140015acopyrightI sat through the most cumbersome and monotonous conveyor belt of played-out, done-to-death beats ever, with some bloke (I had to assume he was the much revered MC Rage, these guys were obviously way too cool to make introductions of any kind) prancing around the stage shouting “Chase and fucking Status” every five minutes, in between him also shouting “wicked” (very 90’s) or shouting “Make some noise!” (which thankfully, the attendant crowd did). And, it would seem that Norwich was deserving of only one half of the act, that being Saul Milton (Chase), who was nothing more than a slightly more animated version of the “warm-up” DJ. I don’t know what happened to the other one, I don’t know if he was even there or not as nothing was said. And I’m not really sure what kind of message that gave out to people who had paid good money (£23) for their ticket. When one considers the performances that were witnessed the night before (Public Service Broadcasting, Radiophonic Workshop and Ulrich Schnauss), I can’t help but feel a whole lot of “let down, disappointed and unimpressed”. That said, I want to highlight the real star performers tonight – Epic Studios and their security personnel. They all did an excellent job of organising the crowd, maintaining a great atmosphere and providing an excellent venue, so I think it’s important that they and their security should be praised for ensuring both people’s safety and enjoyment throughout the evening.

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Okay enough already, let’s finish things and sum this one up: no performance, poor presentation and zero style.

The capacity crowd loved it.

I did not.

Links:
CHASE AND STATUS

DIMENSION
EPIC STUDIOS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Chase and Status

Awakenings “Dutch Night”, Paget High School, Branston, Staffordshire, 13th September 2014

Line-up:
Ron Boots and Friends:
Ron Boots (synthesizers, sequencers)
Eric Van Der Heijden (synthesizers, electronic woodwind)
Harold Van der Heijden (drums)
Frank Dorritke (guitar)

Rene Splinter

Beyond Berlin:
Martin Peters (synthesizers, sequencers)
Rene de Bakker (synthesizers, sequencers)

Venue:
Paget High School Business & Enterprise College
Burton Road
Branston
Burton on Trent
Staffs
DE14 3DR

The Awakenings Evening of Ambient and Electronic Music is held four to five times a year and is a series of live ambient, electronic and experimental performances that showcase both new and establish artists in these fields. These performance are frequented by fans and electronic music artists alike, they are expertly organised by electronic music artists, namely Phil Booth, Martin Greenwood and Jez Creek.

This particular Awakenings evening was quite special because the three acts on the bill hailed from the Netherlands and possibly represent the very best that country has to offer at this time. Walking into the auditorium was like walking into a synth-nerd’s wet dream – it was pure wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-ceiling synth porn.

bbawake139140005acopyrightFirst on the bill this evening were duo, Beyond Berlin, comprising Martin Peters and Rene de Bakker. As their name strongly suggests, their music is very much in the traditional Berlin School style of electronic music, featuring long repetitive sequences over-laid with electronic textures and synthesizer leads. Their set was a tour-de-force of analog sequencer-based music, going very much back to the basics pioneered by the likes of Tangerine Dream. Without doubt, it was the perfect start for the evening, as their excellent cosmic space music really set the mood for what lay ahead. And one thing that I must mention, purely because it reinforced the sense of it really being live was that they had to take a short break between the second and third tracks to re-patch their modular synthesizers – now THAT is live music and more power to them for it. As far as the set as a whole was concerned, a fine demonstration of quality sequencing, great textures and soaring leads making it a very enjoyable start to the proceedings.

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renesplawake139140005acopyrightNext up was one artist that I personally was looking forward to – Rene Splinter. I had seen Rene perform live in 2013 at the E-Day Electronic Music Event in Holland (I was playing in the electronic rock group Code Indigo who performed immediately after Rene’s set on that day), and was blown away by his music. On this night, he did not disappoint, his set was simply stunning. Performing his brand new “Frames” album, which was released at this event, with assistance from Eric and Harold van der Heijden and Frank Dorritke on two tracks, Rene performed an incredibly powerful set that was strong on content with it’s high quality blend of melody, form and performance. With music and performance of this standard, it’s no exaggeration to state that Rene Splinter is now one of the best electronic music artists in the Netherlands at this time, something echoed by his contemporaries. A highly recommended act to catch live.

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And so we came to our third and final treat for the night, Ron Boots and Friends. When one talks about the Dutch Masters, I no longer simply think of the likes of Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Frans Hals, and certainly not when you have Ron Boots about. Ron is a part of what you think of as a third generation of electronic music artists and has been making and performing since the mid-1980’s. A larger than life character, he brings bags of personality to the music as well as his talent, something which greatly enhances his live performances.

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ronbooawake139140002acopyrightHis Awakenings set was no different and served as a most enjoyable reminder as to why Ron is as successful as he is and why he has the reputation he has. Joined by long-time partners in crime Eric van der Heijden on synths and electronic woodwind, Harold van der Heijden on drums (electronic of course!!!) and the outstanding German guitarist Frank Dorritke, Ron’s set was full on from start to finish and was a fine example of how modern Berlin School-style electronic music should sound, be presented and be performed – many of those in attendance felt that we should be seriously talking about Dutch School, such was the impact of tonight’s performance. Two tracks from Morpheusz (Ron’s side project with the van der Heijden brothers and Frank Dorritke) got things underway and met with considerable appreciation from the audience, and then we were given a 30 minute, full-on, in-yer-face, master class in live sequencing in which no prisoners were taken and Ron co totally ravished the ears of all present with a piece that, at one point, had Ron Boots running 13 (thirteen), yes I said 13 (thirteen) separate sequences at the same time, with the other three doing their bits as well. Take a look at the concert images using the link below to see the intense concentration on Ron’s face.

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All too soon, the set came to a close, but it wasn’t over. Coming back for another two encore tracks, all of this evening’s performers joined together to create a fantastic finish to what was a fantastic evening of the highest quality electronic music. And Ron’s reputation as a bona fide Dutch Master remains more than very intact.

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As a side note, it was heartening to see this event so well supported and good see a number of veteran U.K. musicians in the audience including Michael Shipway, David Wright, Robert Fox and John Dyson as well as another leading Dutch synthesist, Michel Van Osenbruggen, aka Synth.nl.

Links:
RON BOOTS
RENE SPLINTER
BEYOND BERLIN
AWAKENINGS

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
Awakenings “Dutch Night”

I Speak Machine, Southbank Centre, London, 21st September 2014

Line-up:
I Speak Machine:
Tara Busch (vocals,synthesizers)
Maf Lewis (visuals)

CUTS (support)

Venue:
Purcell Room
Southbank Centre
London
SE1 8XX
U.K.

The Southbank Centre in London is a world-famous arts centre, situated on the South Bank of the Thames. It was built in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, and thus draws on its heritage as a festival site, with art and activities inside and outside and offering a wide range of cultural events. The Southbank Centre occupies a 21-acre site and comprises the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall, the Purcell Room, the Hayward Gallery, and the Saison Poetry Library. Alongside these venues are numerous restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. The itinerary shows that the Southbank Centre contains a most varied of arts from classical, world music, rock, pop, jazz to dance, literature and the visual arts, and as such, attracts perhaps the most diverse audience of any UK venue.

Held in the Purcell Room, it was the perfect venue for this evening’s incredible performance of music and video from two respected and highly professional acts.

cutsrfh219140001acopyrightThe support for the evening was by U.K. based audio/visual artist CUTS. According to his Facebook page, his influences are drawn from “abandoned spaces, white noise and sleep paralysis” and from what I saw of his performance on this night, I would agree completely – and in a very good way. Appearing on stage dressed very plainly and simply in jeans and t-shirt with a blank white face mask, CUTS provided the audience with what can only be described as a mesmerising and original set, superbly realised and expertly executed. I want to use words such as “haunting”, “edgy”, “sinister” and “intense” because they are the very words that stuck with me throughout the performance, so much so that momentarily I forgot to take photographs. CUTS, to me based upon my experience of his set, is about mystery, shadows, complex atmospheres and an altered perception of a given situation. The images displayed upon the video screen mentally pulled you backwards through some kind of psychological hedge, as your ears were treated to some quite innovative layered sequences, beats and atmospheres.

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Images of stuttering electric elements and lightbulb filaments, distorted and kaleidoscopic visions of metal staircases and close-up pixelated television screens accompanied by a soundtrack of intense synthesizer pads and a persistent beat loop/live percussion track. Abandoned buildings, broken glass and an overdriven guitar drone. Dancers busting zombie-like moves and captured with jerky and distorted camera-work, create surreal and edgy shapes to an electronic pulsing sequence, driven by an almost tribal beat comforted by a crunchy and distorted audio backdrop. This to me is electronic music performance for a modern age and served as the perfect warm up for the headline act.

To quote a scene from one of the video montages, “I have been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful”. If you get a chance to catch CUTS in action, do it.

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And so we come to the the evening’s raison d’être – I Speak Machine.

I Speak Machine are an audio/visual performance duo comprised of husband and wife team, film-maker Maf Lewis and composer/vocalist Tara Busch. They create and present their art by way of film and score using something they call Synchronika – essentially synchronised audio and visual composition, working from an original concept to create a synthesized piece of art. This evening’s performance was to feature the screening of science fiction film “The Silence” and horror shorts from “Gaggle Box” and “There’s Someone in the House Next Door” with Tara Busch performing a live electronic music score. What made this evening a little more special and ( particularly from Tara’s point of view) a little more dangerous was that she was to use some seriously vintage electronic music equipment, supplied to her by none other than Dave Spiers of the GForce software house (GForce have created some truly amazing software emulations of classic synthesizers and keyboards), including the legendary ARP Odyssey synthesizer, upgraded with LEDs in the sliders, a rare OSC OSCar synthesizer and the amazing ARP 2600 synthesizer.

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The set started with an introduction by Maf Lewis where he talked about the concept of I Speak Machine and basically what we might expect, before introducing Tara Busch and the commencement of the performance.

At this point, I would like to throw in that I’ve seen Tara Busch perform live once before when she provided a brilliant support for electronica pioneer John Foxx and the Maths back in 2011. I’m also a follower of her work, owning as I do, the “Pilfershire Lane” album and the sublime “Rocket Wife E.P.”, the latter of which had its sales benefit the very worthwhile Bob Moog Foundation. My point is that I believed I knew what to expect from this seasoned and well-respected performer. No I didn’t.

The set opened with the horror short “Gagglebox”, about what one might describe as a very disturbed child – this was a horror short that was deliciously un-nerving and gloriously as disturbed as the child portrayed within. Tara appeared on stage, a diminutive red-head, dressed in a grey all-in-one boiler suit and took her position surrounded by the electronics and synthesizers. The ethereal, and at times, seriously creepy nature of the soundtrack, an intense combination of the vintage electronics and Tara’s rich and almost operatic vocals, made for a most incredible audio/visual experience. Such was the clever staging of the performance, you never felt compelled to look at either the film or Tara, it was like you looked at both simultaneously without that being a conscious act, something which prevailed throughout the evening – still getting my head around that one!!!

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Next up was the second horror short, “There’s Someone in the House Next Door”. This short was filmed in an abandoned house next door to Tara’s parent’s house in North Carolina. The house was apparently abandoned several years ago and her parents looked after it from time to time, but still the house was rife with spider webs and dead flies. This of course made it the perfect, and most definitely, an instant film set for Maf and Tara because nothing needed adding or changing because the previous owners had pretty much vanished into thin air. Everything you see in the film is as it was, from a car in the garage, an old pool table, plenty of old family photos, a bizarre collection music boxes and odd little ornaments everywhere. The black and white imagery of Tara walking through the abandoned property and what happens thereafter is wonderfully realised, with the live soundtrack again providing the necessary tension and thrill a movie short of this nature requires.

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Of course, all of this has been building up to the main film, “The Silence”. I have to say that what passed before was nothing in comparison to what we were about to see, visually and sonically. The mix of sci-fi horror visuals, vintage electronics and Tara’s chameleon vocals took the set to a new level. “The Silence” is basically about a scientist who is driven close to madness by the noise of everyday life, who just wants peace and quiet in his life (and I certainly a few others like that as well – I digress……) and uses his scientific genius to create a machine that induces silence. And so it goes from there as we join the scientist going into the depths of despair as he certainly should have been careful about what he wished for. The music goes from quiet, almost minimal to loud and soaring, wonderfully evoking memories of the gloriously over-the-top soundtracks from the B-movies of yesteryear – in my book, that’s a completely fantastic thing.

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All too soon, “The Silence” was finished and it was very well received. But the show didn’t stop there.

No.

As mentioned a couple of times earlier, Tara was using a collection of vintage synthesizers, one of which was a 40 year old ARP 2600, and so we were treated to a quirky, intriguing and completely beguiling cover of the Beatles’ classic song “Ticket To Ride”. An outstanding end to a complete and proper evening of fine electronic music and a real feast of original visuals.

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It’s safe to say that the evening was a success and well supported by musicians and fans of the artists as well, in the audience were Ben “Benge” Edwards (with whom Tara has worked alongside John Foxx), U.K. electronic music artist Robin Rimbaud (Scanner and Githead), renowned blogger Rob Puricelli (FailedMuso blog) and Chris Macleod and Dave Spiers of GForce software (who lent Tara the five vintage synths). If you happen to be lucky enough to be anywhere near a venue that I Speak Machine put on one of their performances, don’t even think about it, just go. As I said earlier, I had seen Tara play live before, but tonight she excelled that performance with something that will stay with me forever. Positively spell-binding.

Vintage Synths Used:
ARP 2600
ARP Odyssey MkIII
OSC OSCar
Roland SH-101
SCI Pro-One

Links:
I SPEAK MACHINE

TARA BUSCH & MAF LEWIS
CUTS
SOUTHBANK CENTRE

Concert Images (courtesy of Neil Fellowes Photography):
I Speak Machine
Tara Busch’s Stage Rig
CUTS

Hazel O’Connor, Open, Norwich, Norfolk, 8th August 2014

Hazel O'Connor live at Open, Norwich 8/8/2014

Hazel O’Connor live at Open, Norwich

Line-up:
Hazel O’Connor (vocals)
Clare Hurst (saxophone, vocals)
Sarah Fisher (piano, vocals)

Tensheds (support)

Venue:
Open
Bank Plain,
Norwich
Norfolk
NR2 4SF
U.K.

An evening that turned out to be an unexpected delight.

Open, is a relatively new Norwich live music venue, housed in the former regional headquarters of Barclays Bank and comprises two live music spaces, a recording studio, dance studio and media lab. This evenings’ performance was held in the smaller and more intimate “Club Room”, which proved the perfect space for Hazel O’Connor’s set. For it’s size, the sound is very good and visibility of the small main stage is, by and large, quite good from most parts of the room.

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Tensheds, Open, Norwich

This most excellent evening of acoustic music kicked off with a genuinely excellent set from one-man-band, Matt Millership, aka Tensheds, interestingly describing himself as “a piano bashing, guitar swinging husky voiced hobo freewheelin’ around the U.K.” – nice. Without fanfare, Tensheds (legend has it that the name came about after hearing a bloke in a pub bragging about the number of sheds he owned) took to the stage, resplendent in velvet jacket and grey woollen Trilby hat blasting off with a boogie number. “Jeepers!!!” thought I, totally didn’t expect that – but you know what, it worked, it was great and it was the perfect start to his set. The set that followed was an amazing showcase of this man’s talent from his rich husky voice to his intricate piano playing and buskeresque piano/voice/harmonica tracks, all carried along with intelligent and clever lyrical depth and sincerity.  The Tensheds set was a carefully blended recipe of blues, boogie, a bit of soul and in places, a little something of a nod to Bob Dylan, and for some that’s not a bad thing. Without doubt, it set the bar for the evening and it really didn’t take long for the audience to be won over. I hope to see Tensheds live again one day, and if you get the chance, so should you. A great choice for a support.

So, once Tensheds had finished wooing us with his unarguable talent, it was time for the lady we had come to see, Hazel O’Connor. A little bit background on Hazel here before I continue. Hazel is probably best remembered for her fantastic performance in the 1980 film, “Breaking Glass” which also starred Phil Daniels (“Scum”, “Quadrophenia” and “Eastenders”) and Jonathan Pryce (“Miss Saigon”, “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”), and for the soundtrack album from the film which went (deservedly so) platinum and peaked at number 5 in the U.K. album charts, and proving to be the most commercially successful aspect of her career. Hazel has continued recording and has a very healthy 19 album  catalogue to her name, the latest being the 2014 release “Here She Comes”, which the current tour is promoting.

And so the time came for the main act. Joining Hazel on stage are two incredible musicians who have worked with her for the last few years, Clare Hurst (Bellestars, Communards, David Bowie) on sax  and Sarah Fisher (Eurythmics) on keyboards.

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I was immediately surprised by the fact that we were to watch a three-piece and not a band as I had expected. However, from the moment they started, I knew this was going to be quite something and ultimately, the three-piece set up more than worked in my view. The set was a perfect mix of Hazel’s newer material and the anticipated “Breaking Glass” tracks, but this wasn’t an evening of nostalgia. No sir, gone are the post-punk snarling attitudes and fierce coiffure we’re talking little black dress and red head-scarf, all presented with a gloriously jazz/blues ambience and Hazel’s all-encompassing stage presence.

And so to the performance. As mentioned before, the set comprised material from Hazel’s newer work and the iconic “Breaking Glass” songs, the latter of which had been deftly re-worked for the piano/sax/voice set up. Hazel, Sarah and Clare have been working together for roughly 6 years and it’s very obvious from the standard of the performance. Throughout, Hazel is both chatty and engaging, relating anecdotes from her 30 plus years in the music business including her preferred modes of travel (he doesn’t do planes, but she does do boats and loves her home, perfectly presented in the song “Going Home”), a heart-warming moment regarding the passing of her mother (the associated song, “I Give You My Sunshine”, was simply beautiful), the sexism that’s still rife in the music scene (the song “Don’t You Call Me Darling” was simply great) and of course plenty of tales surrounding the “Breaking Glass” songs.

hazel98140016acopyrightAnd talking of the “Breaking Glass” songs, they were very well represented by really clever and involving re-workings of “Decadent Days”, “Black Man”, “Who Calls The Tune”, “Shape of Things To Come” and of course the two that really took Hazel to the top, the apocalyptic “Eighth Day” and the one that we all wanted to hear, “Will You?”. I was hugely curious as to how “Eighth Day” could possibly be performed with just piano and sax, bearing in mind it’s epic stance on the album and in the film. “Eighth Day” done in jazz-style, surely not. Oh my, I simply could not have been happier with what I heard – it was fantastic and still had that certain something that the original version had, and even that quieter, slowed down section when machine just got upset, a problem man had not foreseen as yet, which has me on the edge of my chair every time I listen it at home, gave me that same sense of awe, the camera was lowered, as was my jaw, and yes, I was on the edge of some virtual, imaginary, unseen chair before Hazel, Sarah and Clare burst into the final chorus. A-mazing. Then there was the performance of “Will You?” where we all sang along, marvelled at Clare Hurst’s gut -wrenching sax solo and then roared with appreciative applause. The intimacy of the venue was lost for a moment as collective cheering and clapping of the assembled crowd brought the place down.

The encore was blinding. The trio played their take on the Snow Patrol song “Chasing Cars” – it was moving, beautiful and musical perfection, for me, one of the highlights of the set, far superior to the original. After this was a sing-a-long. Yes, you read that right, a sing-a-long. The lovely Sarah Fisher took the mic to teach us the words and melody to the chorus of a really fun and up-beat little something called “Still breathing”. A fantastic end to a fantastic evening of music.

Throughout the entire performance, Hazel’s voice was nothing short of powerful, Sarah Fisher and Clare Hurst played with precision, perfection and total professionalism throughout. When you see your favoured artists so many years after they were truly at their peak (in commercial terms of course), it can be a bit hit and miss, we’ve all seen them, the ones we all think, “oh dear” – let me tell you now that Hazel O’Connor most definitely NOT one them. I would go as far as to say that her voice is better now than it was 30 years ago and her stage-craft should be looked at by many younger performers on the circuit today.

I like this more intimate style of venue and I liked the fact that Hazel was out amongst the audience within minutes of coming off stage. I was fortunate enough to get a little time with her, during which time she employed my back as to sign autographs(!!!) and found her to be one of the most pleasant and engaging artists I have ever met, no sign of ego at all and she’s fun, a lot of fun with a big laugh. If she’s playing near you, go. You won’t be disappointed.

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