Tuesday, 26 April 2016

1/4/2016 Ginger Wildheart Band @ The Forum (Ginger's (un)Birthday Bash)

Friday evening finds me heading down to Kentish Town. My destination is The Forum, but I'm not going to be an April Fool and patronise the venue's vastly over-priced bar and it's poor quality beverages. I have a quick pint in the aptly named Assembly House pub and find that virtually everyone in the place looks like they are going to the gig. Although I find the ale to be of reasonable quality I think it's overpriced, so I decide to see if the Bull & Gate nearer the venue is open. This pub would also have been full of Wildhearts/Ginger fans before a gig not so long ago, but I find not many people in there at all. The place is no longer a music venue and the hall at the back that used to host the bands in now an eating area. A conspicuously empty eating area. The owners seem to have rather shot themselves in the foot with the changes they have made to the pub - the place would have been full tonight if they had left it as it was. The pub has been completely refurbished, but in quite a nice old fashioned style instead of the usual bland generic modern style - pity about the out of place modern bar tops though. The ales aren't cheap either - a shame as it used to be quite reasonable in the old Bull & Gate.

At least the prices of these two boozers don't tempt me to stay longer and I am actually in the venue in time for the first band of the evening....

This show is actually Ginger's rescheduled 'Birthday Bash' from last December - which was unfortunately cancelled due to some personal issues Ginger was suffering with at the time. Fortunately he is feeling much better now, although a spanner was recently put in the works when the singer of Ginger's other band Hey! Hello! decided to bail from the band at short notice - they were supposed to be playing at tonight's show and also on a UK tour - all cancelled until a new singer is found for the band. Ginger's Birthday shows always sell out, but I don't think this rescheduled show is sold old - although there is a more than respectable crowd in the venue tonight. The atmosphere at this show isn't the same as at normal Ginger Birthday Bash or a Wildhearts show, it's definitely more low key but the vibe is still good. The bill isn't as strong as usual - I suspect due to the difficulties of rescheduling the artists who were originally booked to play.

Tonight's proceedings are opened by Tropical Contact - a band who were first brought to my attention by a recommendation from Ginger himself - although it wasn't until they played at the Pure Rawk Awards last year that I actually got to see them. I saw them play last year without ever having heard any of their music and I thought they were bloody fantastic! I have to say tonight's show is quite an anti-climax in comparison to their performance at the Pure Rawk Awards - they are given a shit sound mix (although it improves a bit during their set) and they are only allowed to play for twenty minutes. Although the band played well tonight I found it rather disappointing - I don't think it was their fault though.
Although Tropical Contact didn't make so much of an impression tonight, I am sure they will come across much better at one of their own shows - they looked a lot sharper at the Pure Rawk show as well as sounding better.

Next up is the Scaramanga Six - another band who I have previously seen at the Pure Rawk Awards - albeit  much more recently.
This band seem to take well to the larger stage and give a good account of themselves tonight - the sound mix having improved since the previous band and their alt/rock is well recieved.

Things get a little crazier next as Dirt Box Disco hit the stage. This is a band I have been hearing about for a while but have yet to see live. They are a bit mental and remind me a lot of The Damned - only heavier and stupider!
Dirt Box Disco are old school punk rock and have one of the best songs by any band tonight - every band should have it's own anthem and they save theirs in the form of 'Let's Get Fuckin' Wasted' until the end of their set - it's the catchiest song of the night! If only this venue had a decent bar I'd be doing just that....

Things stay pretty crazy for the next band! At first I think this band are new to me, but I later find out that I have in fact seen them before as Baby Godzilla. They are now called Heck. When they take to the stage I think they are fucking dreadful! There is a lot of jumping about and screaming, but not much in the way of songs. However, the frontman doesn't spend very much time actually on the stage. He soon leaps out into the crowd and performs from the middle of the floor - this is obviously planned in advance as the well known and long suffering roadie Dunc is forced to feed out a length of very very long mic cable into the crowd!
I've seen Joel from Airbourne take his guitar out into the crowd for extended solos a few times, but this guy takes it to extremes and sings (screams actually) from the middle of the crowd as well.
Not content with 'invading' the dance floor area this guy then heads further afield - up the stairs!
With the super-long mic cable stretched out to a ridiculous length he ends up on the balcony! I've seen the guy from Airbourne playing from the balcony in the past though - but not with a mic stand!
This guy obviously has a radio system to send his guitar signal back to his amp on the stage, but why didn't he just get a radio mic headset as well? Naturally the crowd love all this! I doubt roadie Dunc is loving it though, and I'm sure the venue's security crew hate this guy!
Heck seem to rely almost entirely on this gimmick to carry their show, and although there are some heavy riffs there is little in the way of decent songs. Style (if you can call it that) over substance.
Towards the end of their (rather overlong) set Heck do briefly actually play some rather good music - just to prove they can actually play I guess. However, the novelty has long since worn off with me and I'm quite relieved when their set finally ends.

So eventually we get to the headline act (un)Birthday boy Ginger and his band. The atmosphere isn't quite the same as at a normal Ginger show - there is a slight but tangible air of tension and expectation - will Ginger be feeling OK after his recent troubles? What sort of mood will he be in? Will he still be felling a bit down? People needn't have worried - Ginger appears happy and is on good form. He's obviously enjoying the show and relishing the chance to get back on stage after a long break. Ginger always puts a good band together, and tonight is no exception. Jase Edwards from the mighty Wolfsbane and Chris Catalyst from the brilliant Eureka Machines join Ginger on guitars, while everyone's favourite lovable loon Jon 'Random' Poole sometimes of the WiLDHEARTS is on bass duties. The rather fantastic Denzel is battering the drums into submission and the amazing Givvi Flynn is on backing (and somtimes lead) vocals. Together they make a glorious noise! The set opens with 'Ugly' from Ginger's first solo album 'Valor Del Corazon' and Ginger proudly sporting his new double necked BC Rich guitar! I guess (correctly as it turns out) that it's probably quite heavy and he won't be wearing it for very long tonight.
Fans wanting to hear loads of Wildhearts songs are going to be disappointed tonight, but this isn't a Wildhearts show - it's a Ginger show and as it's (sort of) his birthday gig he's going to play what he feels like. However, we are treated to the heavy, rifftastic, and rather Wildhearts-like 'Drinking In The Daytime' also from his first solo album. Most heavily featured tonight is Ginger's most recent work from his GASS project and associated 'Year Of The Fanclub' album, although his career reviving '555%' and 'Albion' albums also feature. I was particularly pleased to hear Ginger's ode to some of the crazy stuff on the internet 'Another Spinning Fucking Rainbow'.
Wildhearts fans do get three songs from that band, but maybe not the ones they might expect - apart from crowd pleasing singalong 'Geordie In Wonderland'. We also get a great cover of the Icicle Works 'Understanding Jane' - which featured on the covers album the Wildhearts put out a few years ago. For a full setlist click here.
As expected it's a good fun night out, with Ginger back on form and obviously enjoying being back on stage. Unlike his usual 'Birthday Bash' shows tonight features his band itself rather than loads of 'special guests' - the songs themselves are strong enough to carry the show without lots of 'bells & whistles'. The band play well and much fun is had. The set isn't as long as it usually is at Ginger's birthday shows, and personally I'd rather have had less support acts (but more Tropical Contact) and more of Ginger & Co - it's not like Ginger doesn't have many songs to pick from, so it's slightly disappointing when the show ends well before curfew. There was definitely time to get a few more songs in at the end, but that's my only criticism. But as they say in show business - 'Always leave 'em wanting more!'. And Ginger will be back later in the year for sure...

Friday, 22 April 2016

26/3/2016 Jelly & Healthy Junkies @ The Gunners

Saturday night sees me returning to The Gunners pub in Highbury - nothing to do with football fortunately, although it is a 'football pub'. I'm there to see a couple of bands I like, and it's free - and unlike nearly all music venues in London they serve real ale. Reasonable prices for the ale too, although the selection and quality leaves something to be desired....

I was hoping to see Polly Pikpocketz who were the first band on, but once again things conspired against me and I couldn't get there in time. Shame as they are a good band.

Healthy Junkies are playing when I arrive and pumping out their punk/glam/grunge noise to an appreciative crowd.

Their set is a mixture of material from all three of their albums, with more songs from their new one Box Of Chaos now appearing in their set - 'Just A Fool' is a particularly catchy song from this album and would make a great single. The band's set is very well received by the crowd - quite a punk/rock 'n' roll crew compared to the more usual regulars at this pub. Healthy Junkies play well as usual, and the new bass player seems to be fitting in well - the third one they've had this year so lets hope the lineup will settle down again now.

Jelly are the last band on tonight - an interesting mix of characters and excellent musicians too. Like the previous band Jelly have a mixture of influences, but mainly from earlier times - the 1970's in particular, but the band don't look or act like anyone from that decade.
Stevie isn't reading the lyrics from a bit of paper 'cos he can't
remember them - the song is called 'The Note' and the piece
of paper is just a stage prop...
...the singer's stage persona is somewhat theatrical.
Jelly are an accomplished live act - so much so that their second album is going to be a live one. Jelly's first album 'Troubadour, Wizard, The Queen and The Machine' has some strong songs on it - worth picking up a copy if you can.
Although very much a rock band with maybe some pop influences thrown in too, Jelly don't fit easily into any category.

A great value for money night out at a little known London pub venue.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

25/3/2016 The Quireboys @ Islington Academy

Shit bar at the venue - horrible overpriced piss. Wetherspoons next door are having a beer festival - sorted! Once again a music venue won't be taking a pennny of my money over the bar, and they only have themselves to blame.

Inadequate toilet facilities and shit bar aside, Islington Academy is actually quite a good music venue and this is at least the third time I have seen The Quireboys here.
The Quireboys used to be a bit of a shaky live act in their earlier days, although they have always had loads of great songs. When they first played at this venue I thought they were very average, although not everyone else who was there that night agrees with me. However, in recent years they have really been at the top of their game and I reckon they are probably the best  rock 'n' roll band in the country these days - keeping the flame and spirit of The Faces and Rolling Stones burning. I've been less keen on the more laid back and country rock direction the band have been heading in with their last two or three albums, but when they play rock 'n' roll they are still terrific - and this is what they focus on tonight. The band's first album 'A Bit Of What You Fancy' is heavily featured in tonight's setlist, but people wouldn't have it any other way - nostalgia aside, it's still their best collection of songs. Not that there hasn't been some great stuff on later albums too.
It goes without saying that the atmosphere in the venue tonight is great - a Quireboys gig always has a really strong party vibe to it. Everyone is up for having a good time, and the band make sure they do. Spike is in good spirits and on fine form - still one of the best and most charismatic frontmen in the business.
The show ends with members of support bands Bonafide, Hardcore Superstar and Texas Flood joining the band on stage for the last song - it was a really strong support bill but unfortunately circumstances prevented me getting there early enough to see the support bands. As you can see, I didn't really bother much with taking pictures - I knew the results would be crap with my current camera so I just enjoyed the show instead. As expected, it was a great show and I'm sure everyone went home happy. But some of us went to the pub instead....

There were surprisingly few people from the gig in the pub afterwards, but at least that made getting served quicker. Unfortunately my search for the 'Dark Lord' ale and also the new extra strong Iron Maiden '666' one at the Wetherspoons beer festival which is supposed to feature them was to no avail - I shall just have to keep going back to my local 'spoons every day until they appear I guess.....

Monday, 18 April 2016

12/3/2016 Pure Rawk Awards 2016

Wow - the Pure Rawk Awards have been going for 'Ten LOUD years' now! I think I must have been at most of them... It's an event I always look forward to, both for social reasons and also because there is some great live music to be had. This year is no exception. The bands playing are a mixed bunch, but they all rock.

Once again, the awards are being held at the Boston Arms Music Room in (Nigel) Tufnell Park. Fortunately the tube station over the road re-opened the week before after being closed for about a year while the lifts were replaced. Less fortunately, the venue's bar is now really fucking expensive. It used to be very reasonable until two or three years ago and I was more than happy to spend my money at the bar, but the prices made a huge jump in a short space of time. A friend told me he was charged £4.50 for a bottle of Old Specked Hen this year so they can stick it up their arse. I'm afraid this is another venue I no longer drink at - so I make alternative arrangements for alcoholic refreshment. The bar didn't look very busy this year even though the venue was fairly full - go figure... Meanwhile, only about a mile away at The Unicorn you can see several bands a night and pay a whole pound less for a similar pint - the bar there is always really busy so there is no excuse for ripping people off.

It's early doors and the first band are due on at 4.30 in the afternoon. The opening act for this year's awards show is Star Scream.
This band seem to have a different lineup every time I see them. When I first saw them a few years ago they had four or five members - of whom I think only one is in the current lineup. They are a three piece these days, and have changed drummers since I saw them a year or so ago. The band are very good visually, and the sound is sort of techno-rock. They have some decent songs, but their live performance seems to rely so heavily on technology that you find yourself wondering how much of what you are hearing is actually being played live? There is a laptop on stage, which is always a bad sign. Some of the backing vocals are definitely not being sung live and one song starts with what appears to be a bass intro while the bass players hands are not even on her guitar. While they look good and the overall sound is OK, I find them unconvincing as a 'live band'.

Next up is the far more convincing but less tuneful Death Koolaid. This London outfit are far more punk rock compared to the techno-glam of the previous act.
Visually this band are glam/rock 'n' roll although their sound is rough, raw and in-your-face. They are full of punk attitude and good to watch. Their singer is a very good frontwoman, but not so good at actually singing. She is one of those vocalists who you suspect are actually capable of so much more, but has 'dumbed-down' her performance to fit what she thinks is demanded by the 'scene' she is in. Some people are held back by the band they are in, but some people hold themselves back. It will be interesting to check this band out again in another couple of years if they are still around.

Next on the bill is the biggest surprise for me tonight. One of the things I really like about the Pure Rawk Awards is discovering a great band who I may have heard of but have never seen before. Last year it was Tropical Contact who blew me away - this year it is The Idol Dead. You know when you see a new band getting on stage and you look at them and think 'This doesn't look very promising...' - then they totally surprise you by being great? Well that.

By far the tightest sounding band so far tonight as well as being the best players - this lot are shit hot!
The Idol Dead also have the best songs of the night so far - polished and well written hard rocking stuff with punk attitude - like a sharper Manic Street Preachers, but relying more on playing really good music than empty slogans.

In Polly Fluid this band also have one of the best frontmen I've seen in years. Great image, energy, and stagecraft. Charisma on a stick. Commanding stage presence. He's a braver man than me going barefoot on stage in grotty pub/club venues as well!
Singer aside, I thought the rest of the band looked more rock 'n' roll before they put their stage gear on - but they play like their lives depended on it. This is a very well rehearsed and professional sounding live band - there has obviously been a lot of hard work put into being this good - they sound like they have just been on a long tour and got their stage show well polished - without losing their obvious energy. They look, act, and sound like they are ready to be playing in stadiums. Now.
One or two tweaks to the image aside, this band already have it all - the music and performance is already in place and they are ready to go. They have a new(ish) album already out and ready to be ignored by all the rock radio stations scared of anything new - especially bands that aren't signed and don't have big management and money behind them.
Like the brilliant Eureka Machines this lot also hail from Leeds - there must be something in the water up there. Once again there seems to be a distinct Northern flavour to the Pure Rawk Awards - more of this later.... If you get a chance to see The Idol Dead in your area I strongly recommend you go see them - I don't think you'll be disappointed - but you might get Hollow Pointed.

Next up is something completely different. It's Paul-Ronney Angel, who is more usually seen fronting the Urban Voodoo Machine. If you are familiar with that band (and you certainly should be) then you will know what to expect - Bourbon soaked Gypsy blues is the order of the day.
I wasn't sure how well a solo acoustic set would go down with the Pure Rawk crowd - all fired up for some loud rock & roll. It actually goes down really well. Paul-Ronney is an excellent frontman with plenty of stage presence and he manages to get the crowd going at least as well as some of the earlier electric acts. It helps that his twisted gypsy/folk/blues songs are good too. Then, just to hammer things home for the last few songs Mr Angel brings out his secret weapon - a trumbonist! This works surprisingly well and the crowd lap it up.
I think it's pretty hard for a solo acoustic artist to carry off a half hour set of songs largely unknown to the audience, but Paul-Ronney Angel makes it look easy tonight and gives the impression he could easily have played for longer. His set tonight is a triumph.

Next the awards start proper - for a full list and pictures of the winners of the 2016 Pure Rawk Awards click here. For the rest of the evening the awards are handed out between sets from the live bands. The next band is The Scaramanga Six. So called because there are four members of the band? Confused? You will be...
The Scaramanga Six look different, and they are different. They have quite an 'out of sorts' vibe about them, but they are very much a full on rock band, with maybe a little jazz thrown into the mix. The band give a very in-your-face performance, with the bass player in particular appearing somewhat out of control.

They are all good musicians and the band hold your attention even if you don't know their songs. In spite of the somewhat crazed bass player there has obviously been quite a lot of thought put into their music and their performance.

More awards are dished out, then The Role Models hit the stage.
If you could distill the rock 'n' roll essence of the old and much missed 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street into a band, then what you would end up with is the Role Models - in fact I remember being served at the bar by a member of the band as at least one of them used to work there. This band have been going for a few years now, having partly sprung from the ashes of latter day Yo-Yo's offshoot The Loyalties - before the latter band had even burned out. There are certainly similarities in sound between the bands, but the Role Models have a whole album of new material in their 2015 album The Go-To Guy. They play good tuneful punky rock 'n' roll with plenty of attitude and are well worth checking out if you like the other two bands mentioned above.

The final awards are handed out and then it's time for The Amorettes.
This Scottish 3 piece featuring two sisters on bass and drums have been making waves for the last couple of years or so - I know Pure Rawk boss Nix was really pleased to land them as the headline act for the awards this year.

The first time I saw the Amorettes was at last year's Camden Rocks festival. I thought they were good but very generic - a lot like a female version of Airbourne. Good stage presence but far from original. I don't know what has happened since then, but WOW!
When I saw this band last year it was from the back of a large but crowded room in Camden and to be honest I thought they were good but nothing special. Tonight I have had to completely revise my opinion! They no longer sound generic to me - since last year they are finding their own style and sound. The songwriting has helped with that and this band can no longer be accused of being a female Airbourne.

The Amorettes have definitely taken it up a gear or two since I last saw them - in fact I'd say they were in overdrive now. This is the best sound I've heard at a gig for a very long time - the sound guy tonight has got this spot on. This might be only a three piece band but the sound is MASSIVE! It's loud and really in-your-face - probably helped by the fact that I'm close to the stage and standing in the best place to get the full effect. The band's performance is terrific and the guitars sound BLOODY FANTASTIC - particularly Gill Montgomery's guitar sound - it's fat dirty and raw and I love it! The band don't just sound great - they have excellent charisma and a commanding stage presence too - looking like they are loving every moment they are blasting out their high powered rock.

There is a short interlude towards the end of the set when Gill is presented with a birthday cake...

...then it's back to business - and business is good! This is the out-and-out hardest rocking band I've seen for some time. They have managed to distill hard rock down to it's very essence: Bass, drums, and just one guitar - no keyboards or unnecessary effects, and no bloody laptops. Like early AC/DC this is dirty and raw, simple and basic - and all the better for it. Without sounding anything like AC/DC.
All too soon The Amorettes dynamic and exciting set is over. This band really hit me for six tonight and I can't wait to see them again, although I wonder if they can ever match what I saw tonight as I felt tonight's show from the band was really something special - this was a band firing on all cylinders, sounding fantastic, and really at the top of their game. They are playing at the Camden Rocks festival in June so it will be interesting to see how tonight's amazing show compares...

And so another great night at the Pure Rawk Awards draws to a close - well done to Nix and all the team for another terrific event. Hopefully a load of money was raised for this year's chosen charity Mind - all profits from this event go to charity, so not only do all those attending have a great night out with a bunch of excellent bands but they help a good cause as well. Everybody wins!

Same time next year then?