Monday, 26 October 2015

15/10/2015 Wolfsbane @ The Dome

Although the mighty Wolfsbane reformed several years ago, it's not often that the band's loyal followers (known as Howling Mad Shitheads) get to see the band play live. But now they have booked a whole tour to celebrate the release 25 years ago of their 'All Hell's Breaking Loose Down at Little Kathy Wilson's Place' EP. They have also just recorded a brand new EP entitled simply 'ROCK!'  This is the first date of the tour - starting in London. The date is billed as being at The Dome in Tufnell Park, but turns out to be at the smaller Boston Arms Music Room - a nice venue in it's own right.

Due to a couple of reasons I decide to take the bike down instead of getting the tube: 1. The venue bar prices have taken a massive hike over the past two or three years - going up several times faster than my wages. A bottle of Newcastle Brown used to be very reasonably priced at this venue at not much over £3 - now it's well over £4 so they can stick it up their arse - I'd rather go without than be ripped-off like that. Another place that I have now decided is a 'non-drinking venue' for me. 2. Tufnell Park tube station is closed until well into next year due to the lifts being replaced. Why does it seem to take much longer just to put new lifts in than it did to build the whole station in the first place?

I arrive to find support band Quartz already playing. I also discover I have missed another support band - I thought there were only two bands on the bill? The other band was called Speed Trap - somewhat ironic for me as 'Speed' is part of the name of the model of motorcycle I rode to the gig - I also got caught by a hidden speed camera soon after getting it, and the area of the gig is infested with speed cameras and 20 MPH speed limits! It concentrates the mind somewhat... To be honest I'd never heard of Quartz before - apparently they were part of the NWOBHM, but they slipped under my radar somehow. Anyway, they sound a lot better than they look tonight - not a million miles away from Diamond Head - who were obviously also heavily influenced by Black Sabbath. The sound is pure NWOBHM and the guitarist is very good, although he doesn't look like he would even like heavy metal - let alone be able to play it! He looks like he should be playing in the corner of a pub in an old man's blues band - but he can play the shit of of his guitar and gets a great 'metal' sound out of his rig. The band's singer - a newer and slightly younger recruit (who appears to have suffered far less from the ravages of time) says of his two bandmates "These guys did loads of drugs back in the day - and look what happened? Don't do drugs kids!". Quartz turn out a solid and enjoyable set of 70's/80's sounding metal - finishing with a (not really necessary) cover of the Dio fronted Sabbath classic 'Heaven And Hell'.

Just when you think we might have seen the last of Wolfsbane they pop up again! Last time I saw them they said "See you next year!". That was about two years ago now - with no sign of any activity from the band since. Now they are suddenly back with a newly recorded EP and a full tour! The last time we saw them was when they were promoting their (very good) comeback album 'Wolfsbane Save The World' - a varied and interesting album containing some cracking songs that are up there with their previous output. Although pies may have been eaten and there is more hair on the faces of some band members than on their heads these days, one thing about Wolfsbane that hasn't changed is the ferocity of their performance and the fire in Blaze Bayley's eyes! The band sound just as good as ever - in fact guitarist Jase Edwards probably has a heavier sound now and plays even better than he did back in the day. Drummer Steve 'Danger' must scare the shit of his drum kit as he beats it to within an inch of it's life - while bassist Jeff Hately unbelievably still looks exactly the same as he did in the band first time round, although his trademark Gibson Thunderbird bass seems to have been retired in favour of a more bulletproof Fender Precision.
Starting with 'Steel' - the opening track from the band's terrific '...Kathy Wilson...' EP there is no let-up to the power and intensity of tonight's set. Naturally, said EP is heavily featured in the setlist - but there are so many good songs on that release that it's always been well represented in the band's live shows. You just can't have a Wolfsbane show without the EP's title track and the singalong anthem 'Paint The Town Red'.
Naturally, the set is full of the band's classics like 'Black Lagoon' and 'I like It Hot' as well as some choice cuts from their comeback album like the autobiographical  'Smoke And Red Light' and the uplifting 'Blue Sky'. The band keep things fresh by not playing just the same old 'hits' every time they go out on tour - they also throw in some rarely heard songs like 'Lifestyles Of The Broke & Obscure' with it's crushingly heavy riffing from their virtually unknown self titled album - their last before splitting up but the best sounding album they ever made. It's terrific to hear 'obscure' gems like this! Surprisingly, there are no new songs tonight from the band's brand new 4 track 'ROCK' EP - I think the reason being that these songs were so recently recorded that the band haven't had enough time to rehearse them up to play on the tour.

The audience are well into it and the atmosphere is terrific with loads of people singing/shouting along at the top of their voices - Wolfsbane shows are enormous FUN! Much of this is due to Blaze being such a brilliant frontman - he is determined that you will have a good time - whether you like it or not! And I'm pretty sure everyone does - I know I did.

Blaze's rants and 'snake oil' spiel between songs are highly entertaining and it's fun guessing which song is coming up next from his long and corny hammed-up introductions to the songs. There is nothing to compare with a Wolfsbane show! Blaze looks like he totally believes in what he is doing, and his staring eyes and crazed persona make you believe it too. He does let the odd smile slip - we can tell he is enjoying this as much as we are! All too soon the show is over, but what a show it was - I'm sure nobody goes home disappointed. This year as the band exit the stage they give no clue about when they will be back again, but still imply that they will be back. Let's hope they don't leave it so long next time....

Skint though I am, I spend some cash on the new EP instead of the venue's vastly overpriced beer. It's money well spent too - this new self-produced stuff sounds far meatier and heavier than the disappointingly lightweight Rick Rubin produced 'Live Fast, Die Fast' debut album. There is a variety of interesting songs involving subjects such as how it's actually OK to keep on playing in a band as you get older, catchy commercial stuff about would-be/has-been movie stars, and social comment on how times have changed regarding 'alternative' culture. Not unlike Saxon's 'Denim & Leather' Wolfsbane have a knack for writing songs I can personally identify with.

Jumping on the bike the journey home only takes twenty minutes - who needs the tube and overpriced venue beer anyway?

Oh yeah - my pictures are shit as usual these days, but if you want to see a load of really good photos from this gig in excellent qualitiy click here to go to Trudi Knight's photo album.

Monday, 12 October 2015

26/10/2015 Desperate Journalist & The Ooh Mao Mao's @ Some Weird Sin club

After seeing The Wildhearts last night anything else is likely to be an anti-climax, but this looks like an interesting event as well as being easy and cheap to get to. The excellent Some Weird Sin club has been leading a nomadic existence since the closure of it's regular venue Buffalo Bar in Highbury earlier this year. Events have been held at various other venues - the last one being at The Lexington in Pentonville Road. That one was quite a success - see one of my other recent blog posts. This month sees the club happening down in Green Lanes at The Finsbury. The venue is a pub almost right next to Manor House tube and directly opposite Finsbury Park itself - the actual park that is - not the station. It suits me well - as I mentioned - it's very easy and cheap to get to on the Piccadilly Line.

I've only been to this venue once before (to see JJ Rosa - see another old blog post) - that was about two years ago shortly after it had been refurbished. It has just been refurbished again and there have been some noticeable changes; the stage has been moved to the opposite side of the back room, and I get the impression the room itself is smaller. The layout seems to work well enough though. One change which isn't so good is the ale prices! On my last visit I was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of real ales on tap, and at reasonable prices. The prices are no longer reasonable and all the ales on offer are rather on the week side - a pint of not very strong Doombar is well over £4. There is no justiification for this - over the past two or three years the price of a pint at certain venues has gone up at several times the rate of my wages. Unfortunately there isn't a Wetherspoons close to this venue, and I certainly won't be spending much of my hard earned at the bar at the prices they are charging. As no one else seems to be drinking the real ales maybe I'm not the only one who thinks they are really overpriced?

Oh yes - the music...

The Ooh Mao Mao's are playing when I arrive. An Anglo-American band making their London debut tonight.
They play dirty sounding punky rock 'n' roll - dark and slightly menacing. Their American accented singer has more than a touch of Morticia Addams about her, although with a much shorter skirt! She has very good stage presence and looks like she owns it. The band have a more US sound overall and are certainly worth checking out.

I didn't bother taking many pictures - the venue has a smoke machine. This is fine for adding some 'atmosphere', but shit for photography as the auto-focus on my camera can't focus through the haze.

Tonight's 'Secret headline band' are playing under the name 'Sad Hack'. Actually they are called Desperate Journalist. The name means nothing to me to be honest so I don't know why they are going to the trouble of playing under another name. There are some people here who do seem to know them though, and I recognise at least two members of the band as being Some Weird Sin club regulars -including an ex-member of Johnny Cola & The A-Grades who also DJ's at this club!
Described as "intense and shimmering post-punk" they seem to take some time to get into their stride. It seems a bit shoegazey to me but they play well. There doesn't seem to be anything memorable as far as the actual songs go for most of their set....
It's not until the last couple of songs in their set that they really seem to get going, but they do manage to impress me with the intensity of those final two songs. If only they could harness what they captured then for the rest of their set. Still, I guess it's still early days for this band and I expect they will pop up at this club again - it will be interesting to see them in a year or so's time...

After the bands have finished the DJs take over to take things into the small hours. I have to say the music they play is really good! It's a very cool mixture of everything from classic 1950's rock & roll (which always get's people dancing!) to Beatles and Stones classics, 1970's UK Glam Rock and punk, to the more up to date indie rock stuff - with the emphasis being very much on bands that do actually rock. After not looking that busy when I arrived earlier (probably because there were so many people sitting outside) the club has filled up nicely later on and the dancefloor is looking lively!
Oh yes - there were free shots on offer later as well! It was certainly a good night out and (ale prices/strength apart) I would be quite happy if this venue became the regular home for the Some Weird Sin club. The club is back at the same venue in October, and with a rather good bill as well...

Saturday, 10 October 2015

25/9/2015 The WiLDHEARTS & Hey! Hello! @ Shepherds Bush Empire

Shepherds Bush Empire is another venue I have added to my 'Non-drinking' list due to their poor quality beverages and rip-off prices. I had started going to the O'Neil's pub on the corner for before/after gig beers instead, but had found it less than satisfactory. A little online research revealed a Wetherspoons in the shopping centre next to the green - why hadn't I discovered this years ago? Suitably refreshed I head off to the venue and arrive with a few minutes to spare before opening act Hey! Hello! This is a new band from Ginger and seems to be his current favourite project. It's also been popular with his (and the Wildhearts) fans as well as getting good reviews and radio play on the rock stations - although the BBC continue to pretend this band doesn't exist. They never liked the Wildhearts much either so I guess that's no surprise. Ginger seems to have been doing quite well for the last few years without any help from the BBC so maybe he's not bothered... One can't help but get the feeling that certain bands and artists are secretly and inexplicably blacklisted by some stations who's format you would think they'd fit right into. Nothing changes but the shoes...

My train of thought seems to have become derailed - getting back on track; There have been some changes in the Hey! Hello! camp over the past year. Original singer Victoria Liedtke who appeared on the band's self titled debut album has gone. Her place has been taken by Hollis Mahady from Love Zombies - who seems to have fitted in very well. The other change is only temporary: the second guitar spot has previously been filled on live shows (Ginger played all the instruments on the album) by ex-Towers Of London and Prodigy lead guitarist the Rev. He's currently taking time out as he's just become a father and on this tour his place is taken by the very capable Chris Catalyst from the brilliant Eureka Machines.
Hey! Hello! are a very different band to the Wildhearts, and quite deliberately so. This is much more of a pop/punk outfit, but still with a dark edge if you dig a little deeper. Ginger seems to be enjoying this project enormously - both on stage where he doesn't have to sing lead vocals, and in the studio where he is enjoying working on the next Hey! Hello! album. Ginger seems very keen on being  just a songwriter and guitarist in this band and is devoting great enthusiasm to this project.
This is the first time I've seen Hey! Hello! with Hollis singing - Victoria was very bouncy and lively and a hard act to follow, but Hollis throws herself wholeheartedly into this project and is full of energy! She tears around the stage like a human dynamo and really knows how to work a crowd. With a rhythm section of original AntiProduct bassist Toshi (Chris Catalyst also had a spell in AntiProduct on bass duties) and Ai on drums this is a very good live band - they all look and perform like stars. Unfortunately the 30 minute set time doesn't allow the band to play the whole of their album and How I Survived The Punk Wars is conspicuous by it's absence. However, we did get 'Honour' - the song Ginger wrote, sung, and recorded with Courtney Love, and the incredibly catchy 'Swimwear' for the 'Hey! Hello!' album. All too soon the band's set is over, but it's great fun! Anybody wanting more will be able to catch the band on their own headline tour later this year... As you can see, my pictures are rubbish as usual these days - but if you want to see some really good pictures of Hey! Hello! then I suggest you go and look at the ones taken at this gig by the excellent Trudi Knight here. There's loads of them!

Next up are the recently reformed Baby Chaos. They also have a new album to promote.
After seventeen years away this Scottish  band are still full of energy. However, they didn't really connect with me first time round and they don't tonight either. They have some good riffs, decent songs, and they still seem passionate about what they do. They certainly play well enough, but to me there is something missing - that spark, that star quality - that something special that makes them stand out from the crowd. They don't look like 'rock stars' - they don't look like a band. They just look very ordinary - like some blokes in the pub. Oasis or Blur could get away with that because they had songs you would remember even if they looked boring, but even though Baby Chaos play OK tonight there is nothing to make me remember them. Which is probably why they never made it first first time around.

On to the headliners - a band who have never let me down live. This WiLDHEARTS show is a bit special - well they all are to some of us. But what makes the shows on this tour even more specialler (is that a word? It is now) is that the band's second album 'P.H.U.Q.' is being performed in it's entirety - for the first time ever. And also the last. It's definitely one of the best albums they have ever made and contains many songs that have gone on to become classics/fan favourites over the years. Personally, I would say it's one of their two best albums - the other one being their debut 'Earth Vs The Wildhearts'. This is certainly a gig most Wildhearts fans really won't want to miss. It's hard to believe that this album is now twenty years old - it hasn't dated at all. This must be an odd experience for the band's highly popular guitarist C.J. as he wasn't actually on the P.H.U.Q.' album due to being fired as it was being recorded - something Ginger has since admitted was a mistake. However, C.J. has been back int the band for many years now and it feels like he has never been away. Original Wildhearts bassist Danny McCormack has also been absent from the band for a few years now so only half of the band on stage tonight were actually on the original album. Judging from the terrific atmosphere in the venue tonight these details aren't of massive importance to the fans.
The band kick off their set with the enormously popular album opener 'I Wanna Go Where The People Go' - a song which is more usually heard closing the set. What a fantastic song to start with though! Many of the songs on the album have only rarely been played live in the past, and song of them never - making this show all the more special. It must have been quite a challenge to learn some of the album's long and complicated arrangements. The band do a pretty good job of reproducing this record - originally meant to be a double album until the record company decided otherwise. However, most the other songs intended for the double album later surfaced on the fan club only release 'Fishing For Luckies' - so hopefully we can look forward to a tour to play all those songs next? As promised, the band play the entire P.H.U.Q. album - needless to say it goes down a storm! There is even a little surprise at the end as Ginger introduces a special guest - they have tracked down the lady who screams 'SHUT UP!' right at the very end of the album to stop the 'on and on and on and on...' chant. She performs her screeching part to close the set and the band leave the stage to thunderous applause!

The P.H.U.Q. album clocks in at around 50 minutes - so then what? After a short break the band return for what is effectively a 'greatest hits' set - minus the P.H.U.Q. songs obviously, but it's not like the band have a shortage of other material to draw from - far from it! It's a Friday night, so 'Weekend' is a very appropriate song to start the second set. The remainder of the evening consists mostly of songs from earlier in the band's combustive career, although 'Mazel Tov Cocktail' from the band's most recent album 'Chutzpah' gets an airing - Scott Sorry who was the bassist on this album was originally due to play on this tour but for reasons unexplained his place has been taken by the ever popular and more than capable Jon 'Random' Poole - for my money a far better all round musician. The ten song long second set contains crowd favourites like 'Everlone', 'Suckerpunch', 'Geordie In Wonderland', 'Sick Of Drugs', and the inevitable '29 x The Pain' as well as Ginger taking over Danny's vocal duties for the rarely heard 'Anthem' from the infamous 'Endless Nameless' album - definitely something for everyone there! Maybe we will get a tour for that album as well one day?
Ginger was smartly dressed for the Wildhearts part of tonight's show, while he seemed to very much dress down for the Hey! Hello! set - looking much more rock 'n' roll in jeans and a leather biker jacket covered in patches. Was I the only one to be surprised at this and expect it to be the other way around? Was this deliberate? Maybe so as Ginger has always been a bit of a contrary bastard. Maybe he just likes to keep people guessing - or maybe I'm reading too much into it and he didn't even give it a thought? Whatever, the music was great, the band played really well, and they all seemed really into it. Ginger said they have all enjoyed this tour much more than they were expecting, and C.J. has said it was one of the best tours he has ever been on!
It's certainly been a terrific night, and both band and audience seem to have thoroughly enjoyed it! Ginger has said recently that he is never likely to write another Wildhearts album (although surely a Pledge campaign for one would hit target in record time!) and anyone familiar with the band's and particularly Ginger's personal history should understand why. However, he has also said that he thinks the Wildhearts will continue to play live for the time being. It's a given that he can take the band out on tour once a year and they will continue to sell tickets probably for several years to come - maybe longer.... There are still plenty of albums left that the band can do 'anniversary tours' for, and I'm sure the demand from the fans is still there that they could just take a standard Wildhearts show out on tour - it's not like there is any shortage of both familiar and rarely (or never) before heard songs to fill setlists for many years to come..... As regards any possibility of future Wildhearts albums - I'm not holding my breath, but it's not by any means unknown for Ginger to change his mind about things. I believe what he says on the subject now - but who knows what the future might hold? As long time followers have learned over the years regarding both Ginger and the Wildhearts: the one thing you can expect - is the unexpected.

See you next year then?

PS: For loads of terrific pictures from this show go to see Trudi Knight's photos here.