Friday, 25 November 2016

20/11/2016 Billy Walton Band @ East Barnet Valley United Services Club

Something rather unexpected tonight; an American blues band on tour - playing in a tiny club in Barnet! The outfit in question is the Billy Walton Band. I'd never heard of them until I saw this 'Beat Club' show being promoted by North London promoter Pete Feenstra - what first caught my eye was the venue: East Barnet Valley United Services Club. I'd never been aware of much happening here in the way of live music apart from the odd very middle-of-the-road cover band. Maybe this is a sign of things to come? I certainly hope so.

The place doesn't have a great reputation locally and as they don't serve real ale I'd never have reason to set foot in there normally. It's a members only club anyway, and as Groucho said "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member". I'd checked out the band on their website and they sounded good, plus I knew the beer was cheap in the club even if not to my usual taste. I was quite looking forward to checking this gig out, but I was also curious to see how many people actually turned up? I was wondering if I'd be feeling sorry for the band - used to touring and playing good venues, but playing in a tiny club to only a handful of people? Who knew that a quality band from the USA would be playing in this little club not known as a music venue? Would the local music crowd used to seeing cover bands for free in local pubs be prepared to cough up £12 on the door? For a band they'd never heard of?

I needn't have worried - when I arrived the place was full! In spite of my concerns the promoter obviously knew what he was doing. The band had actually played locally at least once before without me knowing, and there were people here tonight wearing the band's T-shirts. It was an odd crowd though - to me anyway as I felt a bit out of place in a room full of blokes in their 50's and 60's - not the sort of gig I'm used to at all. I haven't been in a crowd like that since I saw Dave Edmunds play at Shepherds Bush Empire a few years ago - and I felt out of place there too. Although the club was full, I hardly recognised anyone - which is very unusual for a local gig. Judging by the lack of trade at the bar in spite of the dirt cheap prices, and the amount of cans of Coke lying around I suspect most of those present weren't local and many had driven to the gig. I think promoter Pete Feentra probably has his own crowd of followers who will travel from all over North London to his shows - although there seems to be a very narrow demographic with an almost entirely male crowd and virtually no young people. In fact almost no one under 40 years old. Still, unlike most of their age group this crowd are out and actively supporting live music - and that can only be a good thing.

As I arrive the support band are still playing. They are called Fuzzwalker and are really good from what little I catch of their set - they remind me of current U.S. band White Denim. I wish I'd got there early enough to see their whole set. To the bar! Only £2.30 for a pint of Theakstons? Yes really. OK, so it's keg and not real ale - but at that price I'm not complaining... After a couple of those I look to see what's in the chiller cabinets behind the bar to see if they have any Newcastle Brown or similar? No Broon, but I do spy Marston's Old Empire IPA - it's 5.7% and only £2.50 a large bottle - that's me sorted for the rest of the night then!

Then it's on to the headline act. As expected the Billy Walton Band are pretty good. It's good solid rockin' blues. The band are all excellent players, and Billy Walton himself is a likable frontman as well as a very good guitar player. He's a bit of a showman too, but without going over the top - he's just having fun.
I think the setlist is mostly original material, although one song sounds familiar and may have been a cover. It's all good stuff though. Even though I didn't really know any of the songs I still enjoyed the set. To be honest, I wouldn't have traveled into Camden or the West End and paid £12 to see a band I didn't know playing unfamiliar material, but if it's happening locally then things like this are worth checking out - and I'm glad I did. I will have to keep an eye out for future events like this at the club - hopefully this will be the first of many as tonight's show seems like a great success.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

18/11/2016 The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing @ Islington Academy

Friday finds me heading down to Islington for a dose of Steampunk. Not wanting to patronise the vastly overpriced Islington Academy bar a visit to the nearest Wetherspoons is required for some refreshment beforehand. Along with many other gig goers in the past I used to frequent the Glasshouse boozer adjacent to the venue upstairs before and after the show. However, Wetherspoons in their wisdom have recently decided to close it. Fortunately, they have another pub near the tube station - not so handy for the venue, but better for the last minute dash for the last train home. I bump into some friends in the pub, and manage a quick three pints before heading to the show. As is often the case I have missed the opening act -  CuT on this occasion - not on purpose, just 'cos I can't get my shit together. Unfortunately I also miss at least half of the following act; this is Andrew O'Neill, who is also the guitarist in the headliners. As well as being a musician he is a stand-up comedian. He is very funny. Just as well really. I will have to catch one of his comedy sets one day - I am pleased to hear him announce that he will be bringing back his 'History Of Heavy Metal' show - friends tell me it's very good!

And so, onto the headline act - The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. I think this is the biggest headline show they have ever played. It's good to see them taking things up a level - this isn't easy for an unsigned band who have to do everything for themselves.
This lot are one of the most entertaining acts out there. Most bands tend to work pretty much on one level and just try to make the best music they can - while hopefully also being a good live act. TMTWNBBFN do more than that. The music is good, and well played, but also their lyrics are interesting and thought provoking - they take you into their own twisted Victorian world. Singer Andy Heintz is visually the most striking member of the band with his topper and dyed beard - more 'Victorian' looking than the rest of the band - apart from the gas mask hanging from his waist - this genre seems to thrive on contradictions: LOUD METAL GUITAR, and then the singer is sitting down playing the saw with a violin bow as the band play an acoustic number.
Although this band fall into the Steampunk genre, there is probably more metal in there than punk. Guitarist Andrew O'Neill is a total metalhead - being particularly fond of death metal and the more extreme side of things. He is also a very good guitarist and throws some thunderously heavy riffing into the mix - some riffs that Black Sabbath, Metallica, or Slayer would be proud of. Bass player Marc Burrows is probably more what you would expect a Steampunk musician to be like, and adds a well received solo acoustic song to the set. Drummer Jez Miller thunders away on drums at the back and keeps things rolling along nicely.
Unusually, the band include a cover in their set - an apt and well executed version of The Kinks 'Victoria' - possibly better known to many in the crowd is the cover of this song by The Fall. The TMTWNBBFN version is excellent. The band's own songs are dark - sometimes very dark, but also often funny. The music can be very heavy at times, but there is also a lot of humour in there. Naturally, much of the humour is dark too, and there is also quite a bit of political satire. The whole mixture is enormously entertaining and gives the band a very unique character - I think they are in a class of their own.
The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing are proud to call themselves a band of 'genuine actual Londoners'  - and you could be forgiven for thinking there might be a Chas & Dave influence in there along with Slayer in songs like 'Margate Fhtagn'. This song about a daytrip to the seaside that doesn't end well for Granny is always a big favourite with the crowds. The lyrics to the songs are clever and funny - plenty to keep you interested. New single the dark and creepy 'This House Is Not Haunted' gets an airing tonight, and we hear about 'Zombie Albert' in the funny and catchy 'Victoria's Secret'. The band also pay tribute to some of their heroes of the Victorian era with songs about the great engineers 'Steph(V)enson' and 'Brunel' - probably their most popular song and tonight's show closer.
 All in all a night of fantastic entertainment and worth every penny.

PS: If you want to see some really good pictures from this show by Ila Desai then click here.

And so, back to the pub. Only The Angel aren't allowing anyone in for some reason - it's not late and the pub doesn't appear particularly full. There was a 10.00 curfew at the venue and it's far too early to go home on a Friday night, so we went to the Nag's Head for beer instead.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

9/11/2016 JoanOvArc album launch show @ The Black Heart

This is a gig I've been looking forward to for a while, and it certainly doesn't disappoint! The Black Heart is pretty full for this album launch show and there is expectancy in the air. It's been a long time coming but JoanOvArc's debut album is finally here - I've been seeing the band play some of these songs live for over ten years so it's great to get them on a well produced and recorded CD at last. After some false starts with record companies and managers over the years JoanOvArc have been in the world famous Rockfield studios with 'name' producer Gil Norton, and the results are impressive. The material is a mix of old favourites and new songs - tonight's set reflects this and varies from full on in-your-face rock to the odd quieter and slower number. But although some of their songs are very catchy and commercial the emphasis is very much on the rock. And these girls can rock very hard indeed when they want too. Tonight they explode onto the stage with a terrific performance!
It's the second time this year that I've seen the band at this venue - the first being when they played to a full room at mid-day to open the Camden Rocks Festival. This is the third time I've seen them play in Camden this year (although they have done so many times in the past) and they really seem to be taking things up a gear or two in 2016 with festival appearances and daytime national radio airplay on Planet Rock. Most the lead vocals are by bass player Sam - she is a fine singer and full of energy.
JoanOvArc are on fine form tonight, but then again they always are - I've seen them over fifty times over the years and I've never seen them be less than excellent. They have worked very hard to get this far and are top quality musicians with a great deal of live experience. It finally looks like all the hard work is starting to pay off.
Some of the older songs like 'Live Rock 'N' Roll' and 'Seeds Of Summer' have grown and evolved over the years - no JoanOvArc show is complete without them. 'White Trash' is a newer song that has also become popular with the fans over the past couple of years. However, some very strong newer songs have appeared in recent times, like the new album's title track and opener 'Ride Of Your Life' - a tribute to the many biker fans they have won over at motorcycle rallies. Recent single 'Dragon In The Sky' is also memorable.
JoanOvArc have always been a terrific live act, not just because of their musical ability and good songwriting, but also because of the sheer passion they play with - this is a band who really mean and really feel every note they play.
After a few songs the first of the night's special guests appears - John Altman AKA the infamous 'Nasty Nick' from Eastenders. This guy has the stage presence to do a very convincing version of Johnny O'Keefe and the Dee Jays 'Real Wild Child'.
As well as being an actor John is no stranger to the art of fronting a rock band - he took the place of the late Gary Holton in a more recent lineup of the Heavy Metal Kids.
Then it was back to the girls on their own playing original material - I think virtually the whole of their new album got played. They must have done a good job of promoting the album as it looked like most of if not all the CDs on the rack on the merch stall got sold.
JoanOvArc played a highly polished and confident set as usual, with a little extra gloss added by a keyboard player on some numbers tonight - there is even some trumpet!
Shelley cranked out some cracking solos and exhibited natural flair and show(wo)manship - I wish I could play as well as that!
Soon we get another guest singer - this time it's Adam Barron. I'm not familiar with this guy, but I've seen him perform as a guest with this band in the past and apparently he has also appeared on The Voice as well as with Mick Ralphs Blues Band - there is another Bad Company link coming up a little later.... Adam is certainly a good singer, and I much prefer his version of 'With A Little Help From My Friends' tonight to Joe Cocker's cover.
JoanOvArc certainly seem to have made some good connections in the rock business, and next the Bad Company link is continued with the appearance of Dave 'Bucket' Colwell - who took Mick Ralphs place on guitar in a later version of the band.
They launch into a terrific version of Led Zeppelin's 'Rock And Roll' - featuring not one but three guitar solos!
The band are really on fire as Shelley and Dave trade solos - and I think Shelly just shades it.
Meanwhile, at the back Debbie looks like she is having the time of her life playing the late John Bonham's part and trying to destroy the drum kit! Mind you, Debbie always looks like she's having the time of her life when she is pounding the skins for JoanOvArc - and she really does pound them! Best drummer I've seen all year.
After some less frantic songs mid-set like the bouncy 'Work' and the catchy and melodic 'Running Away' the intensity builds. It's great to see this band playing a headline show and being able to play for well over an hour. Things seem to ease off a bit briefly as the band launch into 'Freebird' - a song they rarely play these days as they concentrate of playing their own material. Rhythm guitarist Laura takes lead vocals for this song after swapping between and rhythm guitar and bass with Sam for a song earlier in the set. 'Freebird' builds to it's crescendo and things really start to take off - the band absolutely love playing this song - and you can really tell! Some bands play this song just as a 'crowd pleaser' but JoanOvArc play it because they enjoy it so much and are so totally into it. I have seen many bands play this song over the years, but I've never seen anyone play it as well or with as much pure passion as JoanOvArc! Debbie on drums looks like she is going to explode with excitement, while Sam looks like she might stomp right through the stage. Shelley is on fire and totally in her element as she tears up her fretboard.

That looked like it was meant to be the end of the show, but due to popular demand the girls threw in an encore of a repeat of 'Live Rock 'N' Roll' - which went down a storm!
What a show that was! There was never a dull moment in nearly an hour and a half. JoanOvArc really are at the top of their game at the moment, and it looks like things might to finally about to really start happening for them after all their years of hard work. If you want to check them out, they will be back in Camden on December 17th when they play at Proud as part of a Camden Rocks promotion.

And so to BrewDog....

BTW: JoanOvArc's new album Ride Of Your Life is well worth checking out.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

15/10/2016 Jelly & Healthy Junkies @ The Unicorn

Saturday night finds me heading for Camden - eventually. I arrive at the station with a couple of minutes to spare for once - only to find that (not so) Great Northern have cancelled my train. Again. I think this has happened 3 out of the last 4 times I have tried to use this service. If anything Great Northern are even worse the First Capital Connect where when they ran the trains on this line, and they certainly don't deserve to keep the franchise either. Half an hour until the next train - what to do? There is a Wetherspoons pub virtually in sight of the station - a couple of minutes later I'm in it. Time for a pint and 30 minutes later I'm back on the platform at the station waiting for the next train. Only the train indicator display says that the train is now only going as far as Alexandra Palace instead of Moorgate as advertised. I only need to get to Finsbury Park but this train is fuck all use to me. So back to the pub I go. Another pint and half an hour later I finally get on a train to Finsbury Park - a whole hour after I was supposed to. Thanks a lot Great Northern.

As a consequence of the shit service (again) from Great Northern trains I completely miss the first two bands on the bill at The Unicorn. I finally arrive to find Jelly halfway though their set.
This is the first gig Jelly have played since their original singer Stevie left the band so I'm not sure quite what to expect. The new guy is a pretty good frontman, but completely different to his predecessor. The songs are still good of course, and the standard of musicianship high as ever. The band's material is quite retro and reminiscent of 1970's rock, but with a modern twist to it.
As usual Jelly draw a decent crowd, and they are treated to some newer songs that aren't featured on the band's debut album - it will be interesting to see where they take things from here...

As usual as it's their own monthly club night Healthy Junkies finish off the night. Their 'Punk 'N' Roll Rendezvous' nights at The Unicorn are always entertaining with a good mixture of bands.
Healthy Junkies themselves are good fun with their grungy poppy punky mix of catchy tunes.
With three albums under their belts now there is no shortage of decent songs for the band to pick from. I actually remembered to put my camera in my pocket before leaving home this time, but my attempts at taking pictures without flash didn't come out well at all as you can see. I did turn it on when I got into a better unobstructed position closer to the band later on in their set - what a difference it made!
My other pictures were worse than what I could have done with my phone camera, but there's no way I can afford a better camera at the moment.

Still, it was a good night at The Unicorn as usual - well at least the part of it that Great Northern trains finally allowed me to get to was anyway. With free admission at this venue and cheap beer at normal pub prices you can't go far wrong really - although the beer prices do seem to have gone up since my last visit here.