Saturday, 21 March 2015

7/3/2015 Healthy Junkies & The Slurps @ The Unicorn

Another good night at The Unicorn even though I couldn't make it there early enough to see The Izuna Drop and The Filth & The Fury who were the first bands on. I only managed to catch the last song by The Slurps. However, they still managed to impress me with their full of attitude but tuneful brand of punk rock.
The Slurps are definitely a band to check out properly next time...

Healthy Junkies are always good fun and tonight is no exception.
The chemistry between the members helps make this band stand out from the rest of the bands on the Camden scene, and also the fact at they are obviously having a great time!
This band just get better and better - showing that hard work and regular gigging do pay off.
Having good songs helps - that box gets ticked too. This band's mix of punky pop, Glam.and grunge has been attracting them a following for some time now.
With two albums under their belts and a third on the way they have no shortage of songs to pick their setlists from - this is not one of those bands who'll play the same 30 minute set of songs year after year. You'll still hear some stuff from their first album 'Sick Note', but new songs appear regularly and get road tested before being recorded for the next album...
Healthy Junkies are polished and experienced performers who know how to put on a good show...
...but you are never sure quite what's going to happen next.
I always enjoy shows at this venue - nice atmosphere, free admission, and cheap beer - what's not to like?

Monday, 16 March 2015

The 2015 Pure Rawk Awards

This is an a event I always look forward to. Once again it has sold out in advance. This show supporting underground rock music has been going for nine years now and is always good fun! Like last year the venue is the Boston Arms Music Room in (Nigel) Tufnell Park - a nice venue apart from the now far too expensive bar prices. It used to be very reasonably priced until a year or so ago, but they won't be taking much of my money now - I was told a bottle of Hobgoblin was £4.80! Pity there isn't a Wetherspoons round the corner for a few crafty pints before/after the show. The only place nearby is Aces & Eights which is a non-starter for ale drinkers and isn't cheap even for it's generic lagers. Still, it's virtually opposite a tube station which is always a bonus - only £1.50 from High Barnet to Tufnell Park - same as the bus fare!
First act of the evening is the highly entertaining Chris Catalyst. The Eureka Machines frontman is playing a short solo acoustic set - this goes some way to making up for me not being able to get into a packed downstairs bar at BrewDog at last year's Camden Rocks festival to see him play a similar set.
Chris has no problem holding a crowd's attention on his own and is a much better singer than most people realise. It doesn't hurt that he also has a rich selection of Eureka Machines songs to pick from which are already familiar to many in the crowd. Chris's natural charisma and humorous banter ensure everybody is well entertained - even when some technical problems mean his guitar cuts out and this 'acoustic' performance does indeed become genuinely acoustic! This is excellent fun - I highly recommend seeing Chris with the brilliant Eureka Machines when they return to 'that London' to play at the Camden Rocks Festival this May.

After being well entertained by Chris Catalyst the first batch of Pure Rawk awards are presented - for a full list of who won what click here.

Next act is one of last year's Pure Rawk Award winners Mr Shiraz. Their brand of punk/funk/hardcore/metal doesn't do much for me personally, but they play well and there is plenty of energy of stage - possibly added to by the fact that their frontman Mikey Shiraz has just won the 'Promoter of The Year' award for his work at The Parish in his home town of Huddersfield. He and his band have obviously brought a good crowd with them from home judging by the support they get tonight and every time Yorkshire is mentioned!
Although this band don't really float my boat, they obviously float a whole fleet of other boats as they won an award last year as well as being nominated for others this year.

More awards are presented and then we get the next band - also from Yorkshire, in fact also from Huddersfield! This is Tropical Contact. I knew virtually nothing about this band beforehand apart from the fact that Ginger Wildheart had recommended them. I hadn't seen them before or even heard any of their music so was seeing them totally 'cold'. Don't be fooled by appearances - this lot ROCK! Like West Country band Tax The Heat this band dress up smart but rock hard - as I discovered at the Camden Rocks Festival last year.
This lot manage to win a Pure Rawk Award this year as well - it's almost like there is some sort of Yorkshire conspiracy going on as at least six of this year's winners are from that fine county! I have to say I was very impressed by Tropical Contact's performance tonight and their award was well deserved. Not only did they perform very well (my band of the night in spite of strong competition from Essex) but their songs are very strong too. This is a band I definitely intend to see again - I didn't see them when they played last year's Camden Rocks Festival but along with Eureka Machines they will be essential viewing at 2015's festival.

More award presentations and then it's the band I have most been looking forward to tonight - it's the very welcome return of Zen Motel.
I am not the only person present who has been looking forward to seeing this band tonight - I see many familiar faces from past years. What makes seeing this band's return even better is that it's almost a full return to the original lineup of the band. After various lineup changes over the years and band members moving to other parts of the country (and one even being deported!) things have been very quiet on the Zen Motel front for the past year or so, although the band have never actually split up. Tonight's short but sweet set contains many of the bands old favourites like the ever popular 'Rocket 69' and 'Devil Song' from the early days, the rarely heard 'Sweet 13', to 'Dress Code Violence' and 'Last Night Of The English Pigs' from the excellent 'Stations of the Dead' album' and newer songs like 'Kill Your Radio' and 'Curse Of The Girlfiend' form the latest 'We Want Your Blood' album - available for free on the merch stand tonight.
It's great to see this band back from the wastelands of Essex and it looks like they will be appearing more regularly this year although they will be picking their gigs more carefully instead of just playing everywhere....

More awards and then it's on to the final band of the night.
Exit International are another Ginger recommended band, but unlike Tropical Contact I don't really 'get' them. They have a big sound (for a 3 piece) and plenty of energy, but no real songs that stand out. Maybe I'm missing something but they just didn't do much for me.
So, that's the Pure Rawk Awards over for another year. A great night as usual with some excellent bands, loads of friends and a terrific atmosphere - see you next year for the 10th anniversary show then? I'm sure it will be a cracker!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The Nanny State - Part 2. A rant about radio censorship

The Nanny State has been insidiously creeping into our nation's radio stations as well. Even the 'rock' and so-called 'alternative' stations are getting affected now. 'Censorshit' is taking over rock radio. All the supposedly radical and more challenging stations seem to have lost their bottle in the last couple of years or so. Now I can understand the full version of Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing In The Name' not being acceptable for daytime airplay, but recently radio stations have become scared to let far less offensive words than the infamous 'F' and 'C' words onto their airwaves. Five years ago I used to have fun on a daily basis listening to Planet Rock all day and seeing how many times I could hear the 'F' (and even very rarely the 'C') word each day - it was usually between three and five times. This had been going on for years with no apparent problem. The thing is - the sort of people who are likely to be offended by such language aren't likely to be listening to a rock station anyway and certainly wouldn't be paying much attention - otherwise this wouldn't have been going on for years with no big drama. Then the rather more radical and challenging Team Rock Radio appeared on the scene bringing a very welcome breath of fresh air. They gave Planet Rock a much needed kick up the arse and their playlist policy changed noticeably (and much for the better) as a result - but that's beside the point. Virtually straight away Team Rock began playing in-house edited versions of many songs that other stations (even the BBC) had been playing unedited for many years. This really winds me up! Team Rock is a station that prides itself on being all about the music we love and supporting the artists. But this editing of songs to my mind shows a huge lack of respect for the music and the artists who make it. Now personally I'm not a fan of needless swearing in music, although I'm all in favour of an artist's right to do so if if they feel they need to. If an 'F-bomb' is dropped into a song for whatever reason then it's because the artist chose to do it - they made a conscious decision to do that and they knew the risks involved. It might get banned, but that's a risk the artist chose to take. By playing an edited version of a song on air a station is not representing the song as the artist intended - they are not showing respect to the music or artist. In fact I feel it's often worse than that - it turns the music into a joke! You can't take many of these edited versions of songs seriously - it detracts from the meaning of the song and it often stops a line from making any sense. All of the artists concerned have plenty of material available for airplay - so if a station has a problem with a particular word in a song - then just play another song by that band instead. Simple huh? The artist knew they risked a song not getting airplay when they included that word, but if you play another of their songs instead they aren't likely to mind are they?

Things seem to have got even more silly with regard to radio censorship and the Nanny State recently. Not only do we rock fans have to put up with the 'F' and 'C' words being removed from the music we love but much tamer words are being removed as well. I lost an enormous amount of respect for Planet Rock recently when I heard them play a 'clean' version of 'Peaches' by The Stranglers. This is a song which even the BBC have deemed acceptable since it's release back in the last century in it's original form, but Planet Rock (who played the original version for years) have just started playing a version with not only the word 'shit' (Oh shit - there goes the charabanc) removed, but even the word 'bummer' removed from the line "I could be stuck here for the whole summer - what a bummer!". This song wasn't even being played in daytime - I heard this tame edited version late at night. At that point I lost a huge amount of respect for Planet Rock. It's not exactly 'punk rock' is it? Inexplicably, Planet Rock still regularly play an American band covering one of Slade's biggest hits which has an 'F-bomb' dropped in several times to replace the word 'rock' - no one seems to have noticed this.... Team Rock are also serial offenders - for as many years as I can remember every radio station I've listened to has played Black Sabbath's classic song 'Sabbath Bloody Sabbath' in it's original form, but Team Rock have recently taken it upon themselves to edit the phrase "You bastards!". Even the BBC still let that go out unedited. But Team Rock still allowed us to hear the 'bloody' in the song's title. What the fuck is going on? Where will it end? If you have an issue with a certain word in a song then just play another song by that artist instead. If you want to play a Black Sabbath song then there are plenty of other great ones to choose from - same with G'N'R or any other band who might drop the odd 'F-bomb'. Many of these 'radio edits' turn the song into a joke when certain lines no longer make any sense because one word has been made unintelligible - it shows a total lack of respect not only for the music and artist but the listener as well and I find it quite insulting.

Monday, 2 March 2015

The Nanny State - Part 1. Reducing the strength of our beer? Yes - it's time for another rant!

Bit by bit the Nanny State continues to infiltrate our lives... The strength of well known ales is being quietly reduced on draught, and sometimes in bottles too. It was cider rather than beer that first drew my attention to this trend - although an ale drinker I will drink cider in a pub on occasion - the occasion being the lack of real ale on tap or a suitable bottled alternative. If you buy Strongbow in your local off license or supermarket it's strength is 7.5%. So when I found no suitable ales on draught in a pub Strongbow seemed a good value for money alternative - more 'bang-for-your-buck'. Or so I thought.... Eventually, I noticed - it wasn't the same strength! It's 7.5% in a can or bottle at an off license, but only 4.5% in a pub - for supposedly the same beverage! What's that all about then? So I started paying more attention to the 'small print' on the pumps at the bar... For many years one of my favourite beers has been Old Speckled Hen. It's quite strong at 5.3% in the bottles I was used to buying it in, and thinking I was getting good value for money I would drink it in pubs when I saw it on draught too. Then I noticed - it was weaker on draught at only 4.5% - again for supposedly the same beverage. Ever get the feeling you are being cheated? Why is this happening? Maybe it's to do with the duty being paid to our greedy government on stronger drinks? If so - why isn't this being made clear - you are not getting what you think you are paying for.

Brewers and pub chains seem to be bowing the the Nanny State. When BrewDog introduced their well known Punk IPA it's strength was 6% - now it's been reduced to 5.6%. What's that all about then? If it ain't broke... Ironically, BrewDog also brew a beer they call 'Nanny State'...

A year or so ago I was in a Wetherspoon's pub in Islington - to avoid being ripped off by the overpriced and poor quality bar at a well known nearby music venue. I noticed they were serving a tempting looking very strong ale I hadn't seen before at what appeared a reasonable price. It was around 8% in strength so I thought a pint of two of that as liveners would be ideal before heading to the gig. So I asked the barman for a pint. I was refused a pint and told I could only have a half! I protested that I was all grown up now (and then some) and could handle a whole pint - and surely as they were advertising it at £*.** a pint they were legally obliged to sell me a pint of it or they would be breaking the Trade Descriptions Act. This cut no ice with the barman so I asked for two halves instead - he wouldn't serve me two halves either and gave me a look implying I was pushing my luck and he was going to call security. I walked out in disgust at being treated like I was a kid who couldn't handle my booze instead of a responsible adult capable of making my own decisions about what to drink. I wasn't already pissed by the way  - this would have been my first drink of the day, but I was pissed off with Wetherspoons and their Nanny State behaviour after this.