Live music review – Travis live at The Roadmender, Northampton, 25/01/2016

Setlist
Everything At Once
Writing To Reach You
Love Will Come Through
Driftwood
Paralysed
Side
Re-Offender
Animals
Where You Stand
Three Miles High
More Than Us
Closer
Turn
Flowers in the Window
Sing
Blue Flashing Light

Encore
Good Feeling
Why Does It Always Rain On Me?

Back in 1999, Travis were on top of the world. They’d enjoyed moderate success with their debut album ‘Good Feeling’, but with ‘The Man Who…’ they had become relentlessly popular. Songs such as ‘Writing To Reach You’, ‘Turn’, ‘Driftwood’ and ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’ were hard to avoid that summer, and they cemented their success with a glorious headlining slot at Glastonbury in 2000.

They may not still be considered mainstream, but those that have stuck with them know their form has never really dropped. The intervening years have given us a plethora of excellent album releases, from the radio-friendly ‘The Invisible Band’ in 2001, through the politically-driven ’12 Memories’ in 2003 to ‘Where You Stand’ in 2013, which is arguably their strongest set to date. Indeed, only 2008’s ‘Ode to J. Smith’ failed to trouble the top five of the UK album charts, showing that the plentiful die-hard fans kept coming back for more.

With 2016 promising new album ‘Everything at Once’, and with a couple of well-received singles in the bag, Travis decided to go out on a mini-tour to road-test the new material for these fans. I was there for the first of these gigs, at the Roadmender in Northampton, to catch their return to the stage.

The 850-strong crowd were in fine voice as they smashed their way through the first handful of songs. Opening with new track ‘Everything At Once’ was a brave move that paid off and it has already clearly been well received. However, it wasn’t until ‘Writing To Reach You’ kicked in that the audience really got going. A couple more hits followed before the next new track ‘Paralysed’ was given its first airing. It sounded good but singer Fran Healy admitted it would take five or six listens before any new material would truly sink in.

With an audience such as this – most were members of the mailing list that had been tipped-off about a ticket pre-sale – the more obscure songs will always be appreciated. Both ‘More Than Us’ and ‘Good Feeling’ from their debut album received huge cheers, as did ‘Blue Flashing Light’ as it closed the main set. It was this set closer that proved to be perhaps the highlight of the night, clearly now a fan favourite despite being buried as a secret track on ‘The Man Who…’.

And so the night came to a close with their signature song ‘Why Does It Always Rain On Me?’, sung at full volume by everyone present. It was a night for Travis to get back into the swing of things in safe and welcoming surroundings, knowing they would receive a much-deserved warm response from their most dedicated fans. They are set to take their new album on the road this summer (an announcement is set to be made tomorrow morning at 7am). Whilst they might not win any new fans over, they certainly won’t disappoint those already converted.

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Noel Gallagher live at BBC Radio Theatre, 07/12/2015

Setlist
1. It’s Good To Be Free
2. Talk Tonight
3. The Death Of You And Me
4. If I Had A Gun
5. Do You Wanna Be A Spaceman
6. Listen Up
7. Sad Song
8. The Importance of Being Idle
9. Cast No Shadow
10. Half The World Away
11. Slide Away
12. Wonderwall
13. AKA… What A Life
14. Don’t Look Back In Anger

Review
It’s not common to see an artist of Noel Gallagher’s stature in such a small venue. He may be seen at times to be divisive and opinionated, but whether you like him as a person or not, it’s hard to argue against his contribution to the music industry over the last two decades. His successes were never more apparent than tonight’s career-spanning setlist featuring new stripped-down twists on many familiar songs.

In terms of importance, doing a gig like this for BBC Radio 2 is about as big as it gets for most artists. Today Noel has performed a sound check during the Ken Bruce show in the morning (actually just a performance) and was then interviewee during the Simon Mayo drive-time show. The main event was an hour-long performance for Jo Whiley at 8pm, delivered in the intimate 400-capacity BBC Radio Theatre venue but beamed to millions around the world. So that’s three shows with very different demographics, plus the additional buzz for the last week or so on every show on the most popular radio station in Britain, plus coverage on the Red Button on any BBC TV channel.

Whilst Noel Gallagher doesn’t really need to do this now – he’s popular enough that his name will sell enough albums and tickets to turn a profit for everything he does – it’s impeccable timing with all those husbands’ and dads’ stockings to fill and a tour with a smattering of tickets left. It’s never a bad thing to remind everyone how good your tunes are. And that is exactly what he does.

The audience would have been forgiven for expecting stripped down versions of songs from his latest record. His second album Chasing Yesterday, released earlier this year, silenced anyone who was suggesting his debut was only good because he’s been saving songs from Oasis albums throughout their career. It was arguably better than that excellent debut album. However, Chasing Yesterday was conspicuous by its complete absence from the set tonight.

Indeed, prior to the gig my brother and I had joked about what songs he was going to play. Whatever we said, we didn’t honestly think we’d get six Oasis b-sides, two Oasis album tracks, three huge Oasis singles and just three High Flying Birds tracks (all from the first album). By the time Sad Song was being played, we genuinely wondered whether the suggestion that he’d play Little James as the encore seemed a little less unlikely.

With each track completely stripped down to suit the setting and played by a tightly rehearsed band, the songs have rarely sounded this good. This time 10000+ fans weren’t going to be singing every line back to him and with it being transmitted around the globe, precision was key.

So if the goal wasn’t to promote the new album but rather remind the world exactly just how good his back catalogue was, then this was the perfect night for Noel. Topped off with some great banter with the audience (Stoke and John Lewis were on the receiving end of some sharp quips) and a well-behaved crowd (sadly a rarity for Oasis-related gigs), it couldn’t have gone better. The audience left in disbelief that they’d seen so many songs they never thought they’d see live, all the more special when seen in such an intimate setting.

An excellent performance. Well done sir.

Film review – THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971) – Asian Dub Foundation Re-score

A long time ago, precisely ten years before Star Wars hit the big screen in 1977, George Lucas was a young and experimental college student at film school at The University of Southern California. Packed with rich ideas and concepts of science fiction and Orwellian futures, he set about making the short film that would first bring him to the attention of Stephen Spielberg – Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB. This short won prizes and accolades, including first prize at the National Student Film Festival in 1968.
Soon after Lucas left college, production began on a feature length adaptation of the story, using the short film as a basis of the climax to the film and providing a backstory and richer background to the concept.
The film stars Robert Duvall as THX 1138, a worker at a factory that manufactures android police officers. His roommate LUH 3417 (Maggie McOmie, in her only major film role) is a CCTV operative. After she switches their mind-controlling pills, they disobey strict rules and have sexual intercourse, which is a punishable crime. Imprisoned with SEN 5241 (Donald Pleasance), LUH’s co-worker, and fuelled by the fear of being trapped for the rest of his life, THX launches an attempt to escape from this underground dystopian prison.

At times overwhelming

At times overwhelming

I have to confess that this live scoring event was the first time I’d seen THX 1138. This is a film that is itself much less immediate than the Lucasfilms pictures we are now more familiar of, and one that requires a level of concentration to follow the plot. Unfortunately, Asian Dub Foundation’s live scoring was somewhat relentless and unforgiving. On several occasions it simply drowned out the limited dialogue, making understanding the film almost impossible. Not only that, but the music didn’t really match up with what was happening on the screen. It felt like an Asian Dub Foundation gig for which they’d decided to use the film as a backdrop for their performance.

Sadly for the film and the musicians, a large portion of the crowd decided they weren’t on board with either element and left before the end. Perhaps it was a victim of clashing with the opening night of the latest Bond film Spectre, and maybe some of the attendees decided to catch a late showing instead of seeing how THX’s escape plan player out.

Where it did work, it was very impressive. The car chase in the final act of the film was excellent and the music added a lot to the scene. This is one of the most exhilarating car chases I’ve ever seen and is a worthy pay-off the often times slow paced story development in the preceding hour of film.

I’ll be seeking out the original version of the film to see if I enjoy it more without the distracting score.

THX 1138 is available on Blu Ray and DVD now. Of course, this is a George Lucas release so it is impossible to see the original film in its originally planned state. It has been tampered with. Since most probably never saw it in its original form, however, there shouldn’t be many issues here.

Badly Drawn Boy live at Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, 16th July 2015

Setlist

1. The Shining
2. Everybody’s Stalking
3. Bewilder
4. Fall in a River
5. Camping Next to Water
6. Stone on the Water
7. Another Pearl
8. Body Rap
9. Once Around The Block
10. This Song
11. Bewilderbeast
12. Magic in the Air
13. Cause A Rockslide
14. Pissing in the Wind
15. Blistered Heart
16. Disillusion
17. Say It Again
18. Epitaph

Encore

19. A Minor Incident
20. I Love NYE / Something To Talk About
21. All Possibilities
22. I Saw You Walk Away
23. You Were Right
24. Silent Sigh

How Did We Get Here?

The first time I saw Badly Drawn Boy was during the infamous 2001 tour, which was to support his Mercury Prize-winning debut album The Hour of Bewilderbeast. I was only 15 at the time but I was completely dumbstruck by the completely unique style of concert I was seeing. His approach to dealing with his environment was unlike anything I’d ever seen before.

Kicking the show off with three songs by the Royton Bellringers was the perfect way to set the audience up for what they shouldn’t expect. It was, at this point, unlikely that the album was going to get a start-to-finish play through from an obliging band. Arguing with the crowd about the location of a photograph of his newborn child he had passed around the standing section was a highlight. Refusing to take his hat off despite the fact the room was swelteringly hot in the venue showed an air of defiance. This was an artist who played by his own rules.

Over the intervening years there has always been a portrayed feeling that the audience was either getting in the way or at the very least distracting Gough. Sometimes it’s treated with ardent contempt. But there’s also an overarching feeling that it’s all part of the act. On many occasions, he has happily laid into one of the band members who hasn’t learned his part correctly, or even crowd members for talking. If you’re not aware of what a Badly Drawn Boy gig is like I imagine it must be hard to understand and enjoy. Being on board the rollercoaster can be one of the most rewarding live experiences around.

In some ways it is sad that Gough has become predominantly linked with his admittedly excellent debut album. In the years that followed its release he has provided many reasons to show it wasn’t a slice of luck. The more mainstream “About A Boy” soundtrack is filled with some of his best-loved songs, and this was followed in the same vein with the fuller-sounding “Have You Fed The Fish?” However, in providing a more robust and polished sound he moved away from many of the nuances that drew his fanbase to his fragile debut. Whilst this new-found sound had brought him some mainstream success this seemed to disappear slowly and, despite still producing some excellent music (the gorgeously orchestrated soundtrack to TV movie “Is There Nothing We Could Do?” is well worth checking out), people stopped listening.

Once More Around The Block

This tour is the perfect way for Damon Gough to remind fans old and new why they fell in love with his music the first time around. Whilst retreading old ground can seem a little like a cash-in for some artists, it makes perfect sense to reignite interest in The Hour of Bewilderbeast.

When the newly-formed backing band too to the stage for the first time it took a matter of seconds for the audience to realise what was about to happen. As the original recorded intro to “The Shining” resonated around the room, it became quickly evident that the album would be performed in its entirety. The sound of Alfie’s French horn and cello [1] faded away and all that was left was Damon and his acoustic guitar looking slightly daunted to do something he must have done 1000s of times already. There is something about the way he does this that draws the audience in time and time again, willing him to get through whichever of his intricately crafted tunes he is performing at the time.

Launching into “Everybody’s Stalking” allowed the crowd to liven up a little with the band unleashed for the first time. The four highly talented (and highly bearded) band members are obviously a tight group of musicians and were working off each other all night, clearly enjoying themselves. Dare it be said – at times these songs actually sounded better than the record.

The small snippets of ideas that added so much character to the original album were all present too, much to the audience’s delight. The excellent run of songs that starts with “Camping Next To Water” and ends with “Once Around The Block” was punctuated by a few nervous eyes looking around the stage as Gough worked out whether he should say “Body Rap” or just allow the recording to speak for itself. He eventually went for the latter – probably a wise move.

It was in these moments that the charm of the night really revealed itself. The Nottingham gig was the first night of the tour and there was bound to be a few mistakes as the technicalities of performing an album from start to finish were ironed out. I doubt an artist called Perfectly Drawn Boy would have been half as popular anyway.

The standout moment of the night was a beautiful rendition of “Epitaph”. As Gough stood there on the stage alone with just his acoustic guitar, he quickly realised that he wasn’t 100% certain of the lyrics and even less so on the guitar parts. Eventually opting to perform an acapella version of the album closer with the printed words, the audience’s response in singing every word straight back to him was so overwhelming that he was brought to tears.

He came back on alone following a short break to perform a handful of songs from later albums, eventually with his band joining him. Bringing the night to a close was “Silent Sigh” from the “About A Boy” soundtrack. With smiles beaming across the room, from the stage to the back row, it was a perfect way to end an excellent night of live music and will no doubt have the entire audience digging out copies of his albums and rediscovering him once again.

Badly Drawn Boy is on tour for the next month. Dates can be found on his website.

[1] The Hour of Bewilderbeast had many personnel involved, including several members of fellow Twisted Nerve label-mates Alfie and also Doves, who were complete unknowns when this album was recorded. It is best to think of the first half of being Badly Drawn Boy backed by Alfie, whereas the second half is mainly performed with Doves.

Wilko Johnson live at the William’s Green Stage, Glastonbury Festival, 25th June 2015

Live Performance

Setlist:

1. All Right
2. Barbed Wire Blues
3. Unknown
4. Unknown
5. Unknown [1]

The second day at Glastonbury is when the fun starts to get interesting. A few familiar acts start to pop up and by and large nobody has a 50 minute pilgrimage with a 40kg weight strapped to their back to kick-off the day.

Our first act of the day was Wilko Johnson on the William’s Green Stage. It was a short set (about 30 minutes) followed by a long interview (about 30 minutes) followed by an exclusive screening of the new Julien Temple documentary The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson.

I’m largely unfamiliar with Wilko’s music but the set gave me a flavour of what he’s about. I’ve seen many bad versions of this band in pubs across the country on a Friday night, playing vintage 12-bar-blues to an older audience. We drink ale, they play music. It’s a great night even though the band aren’t always great. Well, imagine how much fun you’d have if the band were actually really top quality. This is what you get from Wilko Johnson.

The first thing you notice when watching Wilko Johnson is that he has thunderously focused eyes. It brings an intensity to the music I can’t quite describe. Whilst doing that, he’s also carrying his Fender Telecaster like it’s a machine gun. It’s wholly intimidating. [2]

Those unfamiliar with his music might be more familiar with his role in Game of Thrones as the executioner Ilyn Payne. He wasn’t in many episodes but when you see his eyes on stage it instantly brings it back. You can see why he was cast.

So there you have it. Instead of reviewing his gig all I’ve done is talk about his eyes, the machine gun guitar technique and Game of Thrones. Oh how the true Wilko fans will be fuming. It was a brilliant gig though, it has to be said. I’m hoping I get to see the band in a full set soon.

Wilko and Julien speak in the pre-screening Q&A

Wilko and Julien speak in the pre-screening Q&A

Film + Q&A

Prior to the film was an extended interview with Wilko, Julien Temple and Dorian Lynskey of The Guardian. Wilko stated early on that he isn’t a fan of seeing footage of himself, so seeing a film based entirely on himself would be hard work to watch.

The film is ostensibly about Wilko’s battle with cancer as he was given ten months to live. It covers this period, then goes on to what he describes as “extra time” and then his miraculous recovery following some radical treatment.

He talked in the Q&A about the difference between being told you have cancer and being told you have the all-clear. “You go and see the doctor and he says you have cancer and, like that, the universe changes. You go back after a year and they give you the all-clear and it’s not instant at all. I had an 11-hour operation to remove a 3.5kg tumour from my stomach… and then weeks of recuperation with post-operative-infections. So I had time to feel sorry for myself.” Of course, when he announces he’s all-clear, the crowd erupts in joy and applause.

Speaking on the album he did with The Who’s Roger Daltrey, Wilko was in a reflective mood: “I think of all the things I did that year. I was in a bubble. Doing the record with Roger was just one of the many strange things that happened to me that year. It was the first thing I’d done in “extra time”. I was walking around outside the studio thinking ‘this is going to be the last thing I do, this is freaky, I’m going to die soon'”.

He also spoke humorously about the fact he never got his coffee from a backstage assistant, and reflected that he was looking forward to the end but now has to keep gigging because people keep coming back for more.

This mixture of lighthearted humour with honest reflection is indicative of the tone of the film, which is far more than just a rockumentary on a band’s final tour. It is in fact a hugely emotional journey and a fascinating insight into people battling with terminal illness. It’s well worth watching when it appears later this year.

[1] Can anyone help me with these?
[2] After you’ve finished absorbing the awesomeness of Wilko himself, you may find yourself drawn to the equally bizarre bassist Norman Watt-Roy. He’s unique.
[Note] Massive thanks to Scott Wetherill for the video. Hope you’re okay with me using it! Let me know if not.

Paul Weller live at the Pyramid Stage, Glastonbury Festival, 28th June 2015

Setlist:

White Sky
The Changingman
From the Floorboards Up
I’m Where I Should Be
Long Time
That’s Entertainment
Above the Clouds
Saturn’s Pattern
Going My Way
Friday Street
Porcelain Gods
Broken Stones
You Do Something to Me
Start!
Peacock Suit
Whirlpool’s End
Town Called Malice

Well, there we have it. Another year of good-hearted, fun-loving live music done and dusted as Glastonbury 2015 comes to a close. All the flaws my body has developed over its first thirty years have come to the surface and I am out of both alcohol and money. It has been emotional.

The highlight set on the Sunday was a crowd-pleasing effort from Paul Weller. With a career spanning 40 years he had plenty to go on and the song selection was spot on.

Fittingly, he opened the set with a storming rendition of “White Sky”, the lead track from the new album Saturn’s Pattern. It’s a great song, though I don’t think I was alone in the crowd wondering whether the set was just going to be full of songs from his recently-released album.

This concern was put to bed with second track “The Changingman”. It immediately got the packed crowd singing along and on-side and truly kicked-off a night of fun with The Who just around the corner.

Indeed, the mid-nineties tracks he played – including “Peacock Suit”, “Broken Stones”, “Friday Street”, “Porcelain Gods” and “You Do Something To Me” – were only the tip of the iceberg. Whilst The Style Council were completely bypassed, he found space for three of The Jam’s biggest hits: “Start!”, “That’s Entertainment” and “Town Called Malice”.

The highlight for me was “Above The Clouds”, a track from his eponymous debut solo album. It has always been a favourite of mine and the rendition here was one of the highlights of a very special festival.

His voice didn’t even have a hint of cracking at any point, which bodes well for a long future of touring yet, something not possible for every artist that has been around for as long as Mr Weller. It was also nice to see Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Cradock on stage with him again.

Well done sirs. It was a stunning set.

Suede live at the John Peel Stage, Glastonbury, 27th June 2015

Main Setlist:
Pantomime Horse
Moving
Trash
Animal Nitrate
We Are the Pigs
Killing of a Flashboy
It Starts and Ends With You
He’s Dead
Pale Snow
I Don’t Know How to Reach You
The Living Dead
The Drowners
So Young
Metal Mickey
Beautiful Ones

Encore:
She’s in Fashion (acoustic)
New Generation

Today was the big day. Kanye West arrived at Glastonbury with his own brand of Yeezus-y goodness, set to wow the crowds and berate anyone who tried to stop him. Probably. I didn’t go to his crappy set because I was too busy being blown away by a breathtaking performance from Suede on the John Peel Stage. Brett Anderson had the audience in the palm of his hand and the whole band were on top tight form from start to finish. I’d waited for 15 years to actually see them live and it was well worth the wait.

I first got into Suede in 2000 when my first proper girlfriend bought me three Suede albums for my birthday. I didn’t know much about them outside the then-recent hit singles “Electricity” and “She’s In Fashion”, but she was a huge fan and I thought I’d go along with it. After all she was slightly older than me and seemed to know a lot more about music (and life) than me. Whilst the relationship sadly didn’t last much longer, those three albums (the Bernard Butler ones, if you’re interested) stuck with me for a long time through to the end of my education and subsequent career.

So it was a thrilling moment when Suede took to the stage and burst into “Pantomime Horse” and then “Moving” from their eponymous debut album. The fact they were crowd-pleasers shows how much of an impact that debut has had over the years, given both were actually album tracks. Brett Anderson looked as fit as he did when they first appeared on the Glastonbury line-up some 22 years ago. The years have withered neither the angst in his eyes nor the emotional electricity of the performances. He owned the stage in a way so few performers manage.

The next song was “Trash”, a timeless slice of outsider pop rock. They absolutely nailed it, the crowd went ballistic and the band used it as a platform to launch into a string of huge hits (and noted b-side “Killing of a Flashboy”), sporadically taken from various points of their career. It was a sight to behold and has fortunately been captured beautifully by the BBC who have turned a intoxicating live performance into a cinematic work-of-art.

Not many songs featured that post-date 1996 album Coming Up. Of those that did, “She’s In Fashion” stood out as particularly poignant. In its altered form as an slow acoustic song in the encore, the focus shifted more to the lyrics and melody in a way that was hidden by the oddly aged production of the original album recording.

“Pale Snow” and “I Don’t Know How To Reach You”, both new songs yet to be released, hinted at a lot of promise for the future material and will have the Suede fans around the world buzzing with interest. The former is a slightly sparse song built around a repeating guitar riff by Richard Oakes, whilst the latter has a slightly fuller sound and a catchy chorus that sits it alongside the great work they put out some twenty years ago.

For all the excitement around hearing their new material, being floored by a stunning rendition of “Beautiful Ones” will doubtless be one of the lasting memories of this festival for me and the many 1000s inside the rammed tent. It was a long wait but well worth it. If only Kanye could have been there to see it.