Saturday, 31 January 2015

24/1/2015 Stereo Juggernaut & Star Scream @ The Silver Bullet

Things are getting off to a slow start for me as far as gigs go this year - it's over a month since I've been to a proper gig at all. This is only partly because things go quiet in the New Year - there were a few things I wanted to go to in December, but I've just been too skint. By coincidence the last gig I went to last year and the first one this year are both in Finsbury Park. The one I'm going to tonight is ridiculously cheap and easy to get to as the venue is directly opposite Finsbury Park station and it's only £3 on the door to see two bands. Instead of the usual stamp on my hand the girl on the door draws a piece of art on my hand with a marker pen. Not sure what it was supposed to be? At first glance I thought it was a Christmas tree? Maybe a wolf's head - which I thought was quite perceptive at first until I remembered I was wearing a Wolfsbane beanie... (I realise later that the girl on the door is actually the bass player from one of the bands)

Unfortunately, the price of a bottle of Spitfire ale is considerably more than the charge on the door so after one I decide to knock the drinking on the head for the night - pity there is no Wetherspoon's nearby. If I had a bit more time I might have popped into the nearby World's End though. In spite of the great location and dirt cheap door price the venue isn't as busy as I'd have expected on a Saturday night - several people I know were supposedly attending don't show - their loss as it was a great value for money bill. The place is probably less than half full, but there are enough people present to provide some atmosphere.

So I arrive at The Silver Bullet to find Stereo Juggernaut have just started their set. Only Ben on guitar/vox and Reuben on drums remain of the original band from several years ago. The keyboard/samples/laptop player has been replaced by a second guitarist. As a result the band now sound much harder and heavier - the commercial edge to the sound has gone and these days Stereo Juggernaut are far more of a metal band - although Reuben was always a great metal drummer. I do prefer the more 'live' sound of the band these days.
Bar prices aside this is a nice little venue, but the lighting is terrible and tonight's sound mix leaves something to be desired - the bass and drums thunder away but I can barely hear the guitars. I miss the wall of fake Marshall amps that used to be at the back of the stage at this venue - at least the guitars would have looked loud!
Most  the songs are familiar, although the don't play my favourite and what I consider to be their best song 'Fade Away' - maybe the band don't feel it fits in with their newer heavier direction. The band play well as far as I can tell through the naff sound mix.

The other band tonight is Star Scream. Like the previous band I have seen them before, but that was a few years ago - I'm sure there were more than three people in the band back then and the bass player has changed. Former King Lizard drummer Sky London is now on kit bashing duties at the band. The band are giving their new video 'Death Shower Scene' tonight at the gig and are making an effort to put on a good show for the people who turn up tonight. Some thought has obviously gone into this and the bass player has a fantastic look.
Star Scream put on a good performance and there is some stage presence as well as some catchy cyber/punk/goth songs. Unfortunately, like the previous band they suffer from a less than clear sound mix although it seems to matter less in Star Scream's case as they seem to rely more on a laptop for some of their sound and the guitar and bass aren't loud enough to be able to really hear what's going on.
In spite of the sound issues Star Scream put on an entertaining show and are worth seeing although it was mainly Stereo Juggernaut that I traveled down to see. As no one else I know turned up and I didn't fancy being further ripped off at the bar I headed home after Star Scream finished - unusually good timing on my part as the right train arrived the moment I got over the road to the station and the next one would have been another half hour. I was home in no time, which was just as well as I'd been up for work since just after five in the morning. I got a surprise when I looked in the mirror on Sunday morning - there were green lines all over my cheek! I realised it was ink from the 'stamp' on the back of my hand - I must have been sleeping with my face resting on my hand. Good thing I noticed that before going out later!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

20/12/2014 Old school punk bands in Highbury

This is a venue that has only recently come to my attention - The Gunners pub in Highbury. As you may guess from the name, this is a 'football pub' and normally somewhere I would avoid like the plague - regardless of whatever team it might be associated with. However, it has come to my notice that they sometimes have punk bands playing, and as I had played on the same bill with one of tonight's bands earlier in the year I thought it was worth checking the place out - it was only a fiver on the door to see four bands after all. Actually; I was a bit spoiled for choice for punk in the Finsbury Park area tonight as the ex-Boys bassist and current frontman for Duncan Reid & The Big Heads was doing a short acoustic spot at the Silver Bullet bar by the station at the same time.

Unfortunately I didn't make it to the pub early enough to catch The Vulz, and The Stereotypes were playing when I arrived. They were rather good in a catchy 1977 UK punk style. Apparently they were going in 1979 so have a proper old school punk past. Dunno how many original members in the current lineup - some look too young... It took a while to get a drink and they finished their set of originals with a cover of the Ramones classic 'Blitzkrieg Bop' before I could get my camera out.

Checking the pub out between bands The Gunners is actually quite a nice little venue if you ignore the 'football shrine' side of it - it's got a proper stage and P.A. Also, there was a selection of real ales as well as a huge array of the usual fizzy water lagers, etc on tap. Rather to my surprise the ales were reasonably priced too. This was starting to look like a good value for money night out - and so it proved.

The next band was Rage DC. Fronted by a very angry man who kicked his Les Paul guitar off the stage (literally) when it wouldn't work at the beginning of the band's set! He bore a most unfortunate resemblance to Nigel Farage in profile when he smiled - but I wouldn't dare say that to his face! The band however, were very good. There was a strong Clash influence, but I was told by the other guitarist later that this wasn't deliberate. They played with fire and passion, but precision too - the best band of the night.

Last band of the night was The Xtraverts - another old school original punk throwback - dating from 1976 apparently.
Not the best band of the night as far as their performance goes, but probably the best written songs.
Like all the bands tonight they were well received by the crowd of mainly middle aged punk rockers - there is quite a good turnout for this night of old school punk bands - especially considering it's nearly Christmas and lots of people are either skint, staying in, or both.
There's a good crowd, but it's not uncomfortably packed. Nice atmosphere.
The Xtraverts are quite entertaining, and seem comfortable doing their own thing while being happy in their status as aging and obscure punk rockers.
One thing I notice all the bands have in common tonight is that they are proper old late 70's style UK punk bands before it all became a Mohicanned studded leather jacket cliche bound up in rules about what was or wasn't 'punk' and all the groups were just bad heavy metal bands. This is far more more what punk means to me. It's turned out quite an enjoyable night, and I certainly wouldn't mind visiting this venue again in spite of it's football associations.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Ginger's Birthday Bash 2014


Ginger's Birthday Bash is always one of the gig highlights of the year - more of a party than a gig. This year's 'Oh Fuck I'm 50' bash is no exception. These shows seem to get bigger every year, and for 2014 have moved up to The Forum in Kentish Town. Needless to say, the venue is packed and the atmosphere is terrific! It's always fun trying to guess who will be joining Ginger on stage at these events - it's a given that there will be some past or current members of The WiLDHEARTS as well as some or all of the Ginger Wildheart Band. But who else will appear? One of Ginger's first comments concerns current 'gig etiquette', or the lack thereof - he suggests people enjoy the show through their faces instead of their phones , and goes on to suggest what to do if the person in front of you is obstructing your view by holding their phone up...

The basis for tonight's band is Chris Catalyst of the brilliant Eureka Machines on guitar, Jon 'Random' Poole (Wildhearts & Cardiacs) on bass, and Denzel on drums - these guys are the backbone of the 'Ginger Wildheart Band' and play on Ginger's more recent solo records. Victoria from another of Ginger's many projects Hey Hello! is usually on backing vocals for these sort of shows, but tonight we have the excellent Kelli from Obsessive Compulsive instead.
We are treated to a wide selection of songs from most stages of Ginger's post Quireboys career and his many side projects such as Silver Ginger 5, Hey Hello!, Mutation, and his currently running G.A.S.S. thing. Musicians from some of these projects crop up throughout the evening, and also many you might not expect, although I did know about one or two of them in advance. Robin Guy for instance, who has played with... well, nearly everyone. Tonight we get a real treat with Robin playing drums together with Denzel - who is a pretty amazing drummer himself. See picture below.
We also get Robin Guy's bandmate from Rachel Stamp David Ryder Prangley on lead vocals and guitar for the Silver Ginger 5 song 'Girls Are Better Than Boys'. Sorry I didn't get much in the way of pictures, but: 1. I wasn't near enough the front to make it worthwhile. 2. If I was near the front then decent photography would have been virtually impossible due to the tightly packed crowd/jostling/dancing, etc. 3. I knew that there would be far better photographers with much better cameras recording the event and making their pictures available for you to see online. If you want a great photographic record of the entire show I suggest you go look at Trudi Knight's terrific pictures on her own website - there's loads of them!

There is no support act as there is so much to get through - for a full setlist (including who is playing on what) click here.

The guests kept popping up all through the show. We get most of the Hey Hello! live band  (ex-Towers Of London & The Howling) guitarist The Rev, Toshi (Antiproduct) on bass and Ai Sugiyama on drums to join Ginger and Kelli performing Hey Hello! songs. Ginger actually played all the instruments on the album himself in the studio, but obviously he can't do that tonight - although he does play drums or a song or two during the evening.. The guests keep on coming, and include Saffron from Republica, Sami Yaffa from Hanoi Rocks/New York Dolls,  Vix from Fuzzbox, Tom Spencer (Yo-Yo's/Loyalties), Beki Bondage (Vice Squad),  Dom Lawson, Yolanda Quartey (amazing singer), Paul-Ronny Angel, Chris(tmas) McCormack from 3 Colours Red, and many others. A particular highlight is Ginger introducing one of his favourite songs ever - 'White Lies' by Jason and The Scorchers - featuring that band's guitar slinger (literally) Warner E. Hodges and also 'borrowing' my cover band's bass player a certain Jason Knight - who was also 'borrowed' by Warner E. Hodges for a UK tour earlier in the month. For this song the latter day Wildhearts drummer Ritch Battersby takes the drum stool - where he stays for the final half of the set consisting of 15 Wildhearts songs - including some rarities and some songs that might not have ever been played live before. All the many guests end up on stage at the finish of the show as confetti cannons shoot into the air to mark the end.
Ginger winds up an amazing night with the news that 2015 might see The WiLDHEARTS playing their 'P.H.U.Q.' album in full on stage, might see a second Hey Hello! album, and might see a new Wildhearts album! Needless to say, each of these announcements went down very well with the audience. It sounds like we have a lot to look forward to...

Thursday, 8 January 2015

13/12/2014 Dragster, Paradise Alley & Healthy Junkies @ The Unicorn

Another Saturday night in Camden - this time at the monthly 'Rock 'N' Roll Rendezvous' club which is always a good night. In my usual disorganised state I don't arrive in time to catch all the opening acts - missing Sarah Pink's set completely, and only catching part of Dirty Habit. The latter are a female fronted three piece from Manchester mixing rock 'n' roll attitude with punk and metal - the metal being provided by the guitarist with his mean looking Dean guitar. Unfortunately by the time I'd got myself a beer (not always quick at this venue) and got my camera out they finished their set. I hope to catch them again sometime and see the whole show...

Next up were recently reformed 1990's Glam/sleazesters Paradise Alley. The band played well and the singer had great boots. The songs aren't bad either.
If you think one of the guitarists looks familiar it might be because Taj also plays with the current lineup of the London SS - see my previous Blog post. Brady from that band is also present in the crowd tonight.
It's the second time I've seen the band in 2014 and they play better than the last time I saw them when they sounded like they could use more rehearsal time.

Next up is the hardest rocking band of the night.This is dragSTER and they mean business!
The singer Fi's hat has been borrowed from London SS/Hollywood Brats guitarist Brady who is down at the front enjoying the show!
Although Dirty Habit had a heavy sound earlier, Dragster have a meaner and more intense vibe.
This band impressed me the previous time I saw them at this venue and they are just as good tonight. They play hard and mean, but they have good songs too - something many of today's heavier bands tend to overlook in their efforts to be heavier and more aggressive than all their peers - who are also doing exactly the same thing and ensuring they all sound the same too. Most those other bands are easily forgettable clones of eachother - but you'll remember this lot.
This is another band featuring a singer with great boots! Dragster definitely have the most animated singer of the night - Fi is a real ball of energy and attitude and the rest of the band really play like they mean it.

As usual at these monthly  'Rock 'N' Roll Rendezvous' nights Healthy Junkies finish off the show with their mixture of punk, pop, and grunge tinged tunes. This band are consistently one of the best performing acts on the circuit - going to show that hard work and just getting out there and playing all the time really can make all the difference to how good a band are.
Of course it helps if a band has good songs too - Healthy Junkies now have two albums out and they have loads of excellent songs to choose from. There are plenty of bands out there who build a reputation from energetic live shows, but nobody remembers their songs - because they aren't actually very good. Healthy Junkies have songs you can remember - especially if you see this band more than once - then they really start getting stuck in your head.
It's been another top value for money night - free admission and cheap beer even by pub standards. It was cool to meet some of the Team Rock Radio crew too. The Unicorn is a venue I always enjoy going back to - unlike some of Camden's much more famous ones.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

7/12/2014 London SS & Tango Pirates @ The Dublin Castle

Sunday night finds me back in Camden at the Dublin Castle - one of the area's better value for money music venues as regards door and bar prices. The first band I manage to see are Tango Pirates.
At least half the band members have changed since I saw them earlier in 2014, but Danny Fury is still fronting the band - a role he seems to take to naturally.
The new guitarist was pretty good, and the band now seem to be heading in a much more rock 'n' roll direction compared to their previous more 'arty' and alternative style.

When Tango Pirates have finished their set I return to the front bar to sample the ales - after finding the price of Weston's Old Rosie has gone up considerably. While at the bar the comparative peace was disturbed by a nutter climbing onto a stool and launching into a rant to bemused punters about have if we want to be entertained we need to head for the back bar immediately!
Fortunately, I was heading that way anyway...
...and yes - it's the same nutter, but now he's on the stage!
Said nutter is actually Jimi the singer with infamously named London SS. It's good to see him back with the band after leaving earlier in the year and guitarist Brady taking over vocal duties for a gig or two.
Original guitarist Brady (in the blue suit) was staggering around the front bar earlier apparently rather the worse for wear, but when he's on stage he plays pretty well tonight. He's been around a bit since he played in the influential Hollywood Brats - glam-punks before anybody had even heard of punk rock. Then he was in the London SS with other musicians who later rose to fame in bands such as The Clash, The Boys, Generation X and The Damned. Brady is the only member of the original band in the current version - reformed by him in 2012.
Also (sort of) on vocals for one song tonight is Dave Kusworth (see seated on the stage above) making what I suspect is an unplanned appearance. He is definitely the worse for wear. Maybe Jimi is too - he's certainly fueled up on something - maybe it's just rock 'n' roll? He's the craziest frontman I've seen in ages - Iggy Pop mixed with Freddie Mecury and determined to whip the place into a frenzy!
It's impossible to keep the singer on the stage for long - some of the time he's not even in the same room!
The band's sound mixes punk. glam, hard rock, and old school rock 'n' roll - I'm not going to even try to think of a name for it. However, it must have impressed some people as tomorrow the London SS are signing their first ever record deal - maybe something of a record as the band first formed in 1975 and have never released anything? It will be interesting to see what 2015 holds for the band...

Monday, 5 January 2015

6/12/2014 Gasoline Queens, Swampstomper & Matty James @ The Unicorn

So after checking out a new venue in Barnet on Friday night, Saturday finds me back on more familiar ground in Camden - where at The Unicorn there is a variety of (bottled) ale at very reasonable prices. Free admission to see the bands too, so always a great value for money night out. Unfortunately I can't make it to Camden early enough to catch Far From Life who are the first band on. I have seen them before at this venue though (see an earlier Blog post) and although they aren't as rock 'n' roll as most the bands that play here they are worth a look. The first band I do see is Swampstomper.
This band play dirty gritty no-holds-barred punk 'n' roll. Frontman Paul Brightman put the band together a year or so ago, but the band imploded in early 2014. Now Swampstomper are back with a new lineup and some new songs to add to their original ones.
The band's sound is uncompromising and their frontman is brimming with attitude - expect to see more of this band's brand of fiery rock 'n' roll in 2015...

Next up is Matty James performing a solo acoustic set. This Irish singer/songwriter now based in Manchester has been working hard out on the road to support his debut album 'Last One To Die' and is tonight performing in Camden for at least the second time this year.
His style owes quite a bit to the more bluesy sides of Dogs D'Amour and the Rolling Stones, so if you like those bands then I think you'll find Matty James worth checking out.

Last on the bill tonight is another band who like Thunder seem to be really crap at splitting up! The Gasoline Queens like the previous act on tonight's bill do owe their sound at least a bit to Dogs D'Amour - who's 'Last Bandit' they do an excellent cover of, as well the the Stones - they do a great cover of 'Dead Flowers' too. However, this band have no shortage of great songs of their own.
Since splitting up for at least the second time earlier in 2014, they have now got back together for two shows and are now saying they will be playing occasionally if not regularly. Frontman Nigel has a new band called The Kult 45s and Dave Renegade has mostly been seen playing bass in the Healthy Junkies over the past year or so. Although they have other bands on the go now they still enjoy playing together for fun now and then. Long may this continue.
It's an enjoyable set of catchy rock 'n roll played with sincerity and enthusiasm. I'm glad this band haven't packed it in for good as some of their songs like 'Baby Moonrider' and 'Tip Of My Tongue' are too good to never be heard again. Hopefully it won't be too long before we see The Gasoline Queens back again...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

5/12/2014 Guns & Smoke - a new place to go in Barnet?

I don't often write about local musical goings on - partly 'cos I don't think many people are interested, and partly because apart from cover bands playing the same old songs on a Saturday night (but never Fridays for some reason) and a handful of local festivals in the summer there isn't really a Barnet music scene any more. There are four places within around a ten minute walk from my home that my band(s) have played at in the last few years - all four of those pubs have now shut. Maybe it's my fault? Maybe I jinxed them? Maybe someone should pay me not to play anywhere else or those places will close down too? Still, in 2014 I managed to play at five different places (four of them local) and they are all still open. Just.

It's not often anywhere new of interest to live music fans opens up in Barnet, so quite a few people were keen to find out what Guns & Smoke was going to be like - me included.The place has taken a long time to open and there have been quite a few teething troubles - even before it first opened it's doors. The new owners put a wooden cladding over the building for effect - without bothering to ask for planning permission first. The council made them remove it - an expensive mistake which must have delayed the opening by quite a bit.

So finally Guns & Smoke opened it's doors to the public - with very mixed reviews. I'll leave you to do your own online research into that... The 'word of mouth' reports I heard from people who had actually been there were less than encouraging, with talk of very long waits for service and getting food for half price or even free after complaining about the service and poor quality of the overpriced food. It didn't sound like the sort of place I'd normally set foot in anyway - regardless of food quality or prices, although I've certainly got nothing against the concept of a 'Western' Bar & Grill opening locally - I welcome the extra choice of places to go. However, when I discovered the place claimed to have 'live music' every night of the week I suddenly got more interested. But what sort of 'live music'? With the 'Western' theme of the place it seemed unlikely there would be any punk or heavy metal bands playing - or even classic rock. Solo artists and duos performing middle of the road to easy listening or country music seemed far more likely - just quiet background music to soothe the diners eating their fancy burgers. So I was surprised to find out that well known local rock covers band Texas Flyers were going to be playing there - maybe they were only booked because of their name? Still, they are a good band so this was reason enough to check Guns & Smoke out for the first time...

Actually, it makes a nice change to find a band playing locally on a Friday night. The two or three places in Barnet that still put bands on regularly always put them on a Saturday night - the result being that there are three pubs in direct competition for live music fans at the same time on Saturday, but there is nothing happening anywhere in Barnet on Friday night. This is stupid! There was a time when a couple of local pubs would have bands on a Friday night as well as Saturday. Don't they realize? Lot's of people want to go and see a band on a Friday night too as it's the start of the weekend. Then they wonder why not many people turn up to see the band they booked for Saturday night - meanwhile in two other Barnet pubs they are wondering the same thing? It's not rocket science is it...

So, on a Friday night I arrive at the new local Bar & Grill to find it's actually pretty busy - in spite of the bad reviews. As I spot a lot of familiar faces it's apparent that a lot of the people present are here for the band and not the food. They certainly aren't here for the beer - it's a pint of lager or cider (neither of them very strong) or nothing. At least I can get a pint for under £4 which I wasn't expecting, but there is nothing on offer that I really want to drink, and the cider runs out after my first pint anyway. This isn't encouraging, and they won't be taking much of my money over the bar tonight. Speaking of the bar itself - it's the worst design I have had the misfortune to encounter in thirty years or so of boozing! Some bars are too low, some are too high and this one is a little on the high side even for me at 6' before I put my cowboy boots on - but it's not the height that's the problem - it's the width of the bar. It's a ridiculously long reach over the bar, and combined with the height it makes it very difficult to see what drinks are on offer in the chiller cabinets at the back - it must be even worse for people less than six feet tall. Maybe they made the bar really wide to keep the staff physically out of reach of angry customers?

The band are already playing when I arrive, but haven't been on long. They got off to rather a late start due to the 'house' PA packing up as soon as they started to play. Then 'Big' Steve the singer had to drive home and fetch his own PA as the venue's one wasn't up to the job - I think he was less than impressed by this... In spite of some technical problems caused by Guns & Smoke not really being set up to accommodate a four piece live band Texas Flyers play well. They always do. However, all is not well - after a handful of songs the venue manager runs up to the stage gesticulating at the band. They stop. There is a long discussion - maybe he thinks the band are too loud? Or they are just too rockin'? You'd think he would know what sort of band he was booking? They certainly weren't playing loudly at all, but maybe they are louder than the acts who had played at Guns & Smoke previously... The band leave the stage without themselves or the manager telling the audience what is going on - are they just taking an earlier break than planned? Or are they not coming back at all? No one seems to know. The band don't look happy, and the crowd looks confused. People start drifting away - apparently many going back to The Mitre where they know they can get a decent pint. Meanwhile chaos seems to reign in Guns & Smoke...

Eventually, the band take to the stage once more and continue playing. They seem to be playing just as loudly as before and are rocking out with songs appropriate to the venue by artists like ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Whatever the problem was before it seems to have been resolved. The punters are enjoying the music and some are dancing.
After the earlier problems the rest of the evening goes well - apart from me not being able to get a decent beer. If I come here again to see a band I'll have to leave home early enough to go to The Mitre first for a few decent pints as I won't find any good ale in Guns & Smoke. Maybe they could at least get some decent bottled ales in? - none of those stupid little bottles mind! Otherwise Guns & Smoke are unlikely to ever find me spending much money at their bar.

I guess Guns & Smoke is just intended to be a Bar & Grill and not a music venue as this aspect seems a bit of an afterthought and the place really isn't set up well for it at all regarding the stage/PA system. This is a shame as the place obviously has potential and Barnet could really use a more dedicated live music venue - there is definitely the demand, if it's done properly. However, no one at Guns & Smoke seems to have any experience of working with bands or knows what is required to make the place work as a music venue. Maybe they just aren't really interested in this side of things?

Apparently, this place is intended to be the first of a chain of American style diners. I think the concept they have is good, but the execution so far is somewhat inept - it's like they have zero experience of running a bar or diner of any sort. After a few weeks of opening they are still at the bottom of a very steep learning curve. There is a lot of room for improvement here and it seems rather amateurish at the moment with staff who seem to lack experience and don't really know what they are doing, plus some obvious flaws in the design of the place itself - the bar design is terrible and the toilets are totally inadequate when the place is busy. I can't comment of the food or diner service as I haven't felt well heeled enough to try it - it's certainly not cheap - especially bearing in mind there is a McDonalds only a few yards away. I will be keeping an eye on the place and I hope they can get things sorted out....