Tuesday, 4 July 2017

A Beautiful Day Out - The Levellers, The Waterboys, Billy Bragg, Dreadzone, Beoga - Castlefield Bowl, Manchester. 2nd July 2017

A Beautiful Day Out
Levellers. The Waterboys. Billy Bragg. Dreadzone. Beoga
Manchester, Castlefield Bowl
Sunday July 2nd 2017

A Beautiful Day Out – you couldn’t wish to find a more aptly named gig. Five quality bands on a glorious sunny afternoon in the best outdoor venue I’ve ever witnessed. 

Irish folk quintet and Grammy nominated Beoga start proceedings, fresh from playing with Ed Sheeran at Glastonbury. As bodhran player Eamon Murray says, they like to give these upcoming artists a start. It’s a perfect start to the day as the lively (I believe Beoga means lively in Gaelic) foot tapping reels echo across the bowl.

The venue is starting to fill up as Dreadzone take the stage, a band who inexplicably have passed me by all these years. Forerunners of dub and bass but I have to confess ‘Little Britain’ was the only tune I really knew prior to the gig. What a tune though! MC Spee walks with a cane and sits on a high stool throughout following knee ligament surgery some years ago yet is still more animated than many a singer you will see, conducting the crowd with his cane when not using it as percussion. Their electro reggae is infectious. This is a band who fully love what they do and they do it so well.  Us newcomers are firmly welcomed into the “Dreadzone Family” after an outstanding set.

You can’t discuss Billy Bragg without mentioning politics. As someone growing up in a mining town in the ‘80s The Bard Of Barking has always been relevant to me. In the current political climate he is more relevant than ever. (Even if you don’t agree with the message you can’t, and shouldn’t, ignore him). He starts with a reworking of Dylan’s ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’, brought up to date for the Trump era ending with the announcement that Downing Street have invited Trump over. The crowd boo. “Don’t boo. Buy a f***ing ticket. He won’t come to you”. Every track comes with a story and/or dedication. “In 2017 I can’t believe I’m having to dedicate Sexuality to Arlene bloody Foster”. We get a snippet of White Stripes 7 Nation Army with the anticipated ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ chant. “What was that you said about Jeremy Clarkson?” The police, firefighters and nurses get ‘Power In A Union’ dedicated to them. Before ‘Between The Wars’ we get an impassioned plea, “The war on empathy, accusations of political correctness, virtue signalling, are attempts to stop two forces coming together – empathy and activism. Put empathy and activism together and you get solidarity, the key driver to social change”. It is truly moving.  ‘Handyman Blues’ goes out to “all those men who have to accept that they will never be as good at DIY as their fathers”.

You forget sometimes just how much fun Billy Bragg is, the political tirades go hand in hand with his humorous, often self-deprecating speeches. You can never accuse Mr. Bragg of fence sitting. I love, and have always loved, him dearly for it. “Never had you down as folky singalong crowd. Let’s do some singalongs’ – cue ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ and ‘Greetings To The New Brunette’.  It’s a truly joyous set, ending with ‘A New England’. The extra verse from Kirsty MacColl’s version is dedicated to the brilliant and much missed Kirsty. To a person the crowd roar the chorus back as we’re asked to “sing for your Uncle Bill”.

Some 34 years ago (give or take) a friend lent me a tape of an album he thought I might like. I have absolutely no recollection of what it was. Can’t have been that memorable. On the other side was a band I’d never heard of. I flipped the tape over out of interest and listened to The Waterboys for the first time. I fell instantly and head over heels in love, a love that still burns strong to this day. I went out the next day and bought everything I could by my new (and still) favourite band and have continued to do so ever since.

Mike Scott has always been something of a maverick. On the back of third album ‘This Is The Sea’ and a tour that blew the roof of every venue it visited the musical world was at his feet. A similar follow up would have guaranteed U2 status. The story goes that rather than promote ‘Whole Of The Moon’ on Top Of The Pops Scott was in his flat jamming with Bob Dylan. Bemoaning the fact that he was down to three chords he upped sticks and headed to Galway, coming back 4 years later with the folk tinged ‘Fisherman’s Blues’. He has always done things his way.

Despite a new bass player, Aongus Ralston, this seems to be the most settled Waterboys line up for some time and with long time cohort, fiddle player, The Wick - Steve Wickham, Scott appears to be enjoying his music more than ever. Live they are still as spectacular. As if to emphasise Mike Scott’s eclectic career they start with ‘Still A Freak’ from 2015’s ‘Modern Blues’. The pounding, fiddle driven ‘Medicine Bow’ follows and the crowd are lapping it up. Two songs in and we are fully aware this is a band truly on fire. Mike Scott saunters over to his piano to hammer out the opening of first single ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, his tribute to Patti Smith. There has been some criticism levelled the bands way at The Wick’s fiddle taking over the sax parts from the early songs. “Play that sax Brother Steve” Mike shouts during Wickham’s fiddle solo. Brilliant.

Fisherman’s Blue’s epic ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’ follows next (first time I saw it live it was dedicated to Thatcher – showing our respective ages now). On record it’s 7 minutes long. Live it’s even longer with Scott and Wickham head to head like rutting stags. It is frankly awesome. We get all eras Waterboys with ‘Nashville, Tennessee’ from upcoming album ‘Out Of All This Blue’ next. I think (I may be wrong) it’s a tribute to keyboard player ‘Brother’ Paul Brown. It seems to be since Brother Paul joined the band that the band have really took off again. The man is a force of nature, with a staggering career behind him.

It’s a 75 minute 12 song set that is over far too soon. ‘Whole Of The Moon’, which for years they were reluctant to play is a massive singalong with the band milking the ending for all they’re worth. Steve Wickham’s fiddle as the song reaches its climatic ending may well be my favourite snippet of music ever. Another mass singalong of ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ ends the show. I get the feeling they had more for us but extending some of the songs due to the pure enjoyment of playing may have curtailed the set. Today they reminded me once again why I fell so much in love all those years ago.

Waterboys Set List

Still a Freak
Medicine Bow
A Girl Called Johnny
We Will Not Be Lovers
Nashville, Tennessee
Glastonbury Song
Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)
The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
Stopping By The Woods
The Whole Of The Moon
Fisherman's Blues

The Levellers have matured into one of this country’s most popular, and best, live acts. On the back of last years ‘Levelling The Land’ 25th anniversary tour they are still
playing their 2nd seminal album in full. It means we kick off with ‘One Way’ complete with some seriously energetic confetti cannons. We’re half way through the song before I can see the stage again. The crowd front and centre already pogoing and crowd surfing. I’ve seen bands do full albums live before and often they seem to race through the tracks, almost forgetting they’re gigging. Not so The Levellers. Both Mark Chadwick and Simon Friend always find time for a chat with the crowd in their casual, laid back manner. I’ve always found it very endearing. It’s the perfect foil for bassist Jeremy Cunningham and fiddle player Jon Sevink who whirl around constantly, often swapping sides of the stages, never once missing a beat. ‘Fifteen Years’, ‘The Boatman’, ‘Liberty Song’, ‘The Riverflow’ et al. The album finishes with the beating folk/punk of ‘Battle Of The Beanfield’ reminding us what an inspiring and important album it is before Mark introduces didgeridoo player Stephen Boakes with “Well that was ‘Levelling The Land’, this is a man dressed as a girl’.

2012’s ‘Truth Is’, a personal favourite, fires across the packed Castlefield Bowl as dusk falls, an impressive light show in full effect now. Looking down on the crowd is like looking down on a sea of rainbows, a vivid moving throng. All across the venue people are dancing. It truly is a beautiful sight.

We’re asked to demonstrate our singing voices. A loud cheer erupts. “Well that was your hello how are you voices, now let’s hear your singing voices” demands Chadwick and receives an even louder cheer before leading the band far back into the midst of time with debut single ‘Carry Me’, the crowd given full lead vocal duties for most of the song. Charlie Heather (drums) and Matt Savage (keyboards, percussion, great shirt) tap out the intro to ‘The Cholera Well’ before Jon Sevink’s fiddle kicks in and it feels like the whole site itself is reeling as every single person there (literally from 7 to 70) give it their all. Naturally ‘What A Beautiful Day’ closes proceedings, another mass of confetti fills the air. It is the perfect and only way to close such a show. 

We all have a list of our top five gigs and naturally it is forever changing. This one is firmly planted in the top five. Was it the best gig I’ve ever been to? Five acts at the top of their game giving it everything. A superb venue with excellent sound. A crowd up for it right from the off without ever becoming rowdy. Yes, this was the best gig I’ve ever been to. A truly Beautiful Day Out. 

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Dropkick Murphys - Nottingham Rock City, June 26th 2017

Dropkick Murphys
Nottingham Rock City
June 26th 2017

Sometime in the mid-late 80s I entered Rock City for the first time for what I always maintained was the sweatiest gig I’ve ever been to (Georgia Satellites). Admittedly 19 year old me was front and centre and having a good old mosh. The older, more damaged, me was stood at the back for this one yet still ended the gig drenched with sweat. It was a veritable sauna in there. Admittedly one with bodies flying everywhere in a joyous celebration of one of the greatest proponents of Celtic/Punk there has ever been. I rather think the young me would have had a new sweatiest gig.

Dropkick Murphys have brought their juggernaut of a live show steaming once again into a sold out Rock City. Sinead O’Connor and The Chieftains ‘The Foggy Dew’ echoes round the darkened room as the band dash on stage and launch into ‘The Lonesome Boatman’, the first of seven tracks from this year’s ‘11 Short Stories Of Pain And Glory’, although the crowd are already taking lead vocals as singer Al Barr conducts. Without a pause we’re straight into ‘The Boys Are Back’, again the crowd drowning out the band on the ‘looking for trouble’ chorus.

The scene is set for the night. A relentless 27 song set over the space of two hours with pretty much all eras Murphys thrown in, including a 4 song medley from debut album ‘Do Or Die’. There are many things to love about Dropkick Murphys. Amongst the raucous, gunshot delivery it’s easy to forget the quality of the musicianship on show. Tim Brennan and Jeff DaRosa in particular swapping from guitar to banjo to mandolin to accordion to keyboard, often mid song. The energy on stage is palpable.

7 songs in, ‘The State Of Massachusetts’ DaRosa is in the crowd with his banjo. One young lad takes over the fret work and is note perfect. Bass player/singer Ken Casey is notably taken aback with a promise to get the kid on stage later. The band seem to play in blocks of songs, firing them off with no rest for the band or crowd. Then they have a couple of minutes chatting with the sweaty throng and we’re off again. A band more diverse than you’d imagine and with an interesting mix of covers thrown in too (‘I Had A Hat’, ‘The Fields Of Athenry’, ‘Here Comes The Night’, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ ‘If The Kids Are United’).

My favourite, ‘First Class Loser’ comes in as song 21 before Casey invites the fret working fan on stage. George, for that is his name, stayed on stage for the rest of the show, playing mandolin and looking like he should always have been there. The traditional ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ya’ is another glorious singalong, quite possibly a tip of the hat to The Clash’s ‘English Civil War’. The band are big fans (Al Barr’s son is called Strummer). Plus it was Mick Jones birthday.

‘Worker’s Song’ ends the set but thankfully they don’t leave us waiting too long. The ceiling is seriously dripping now. Sham 69’s ‘If The Kids Are United’ starts the encores before the crowd surfing pandemonium of ‘Shipping Out To Boston’. They close with another track from ’11 Short Stories Of Pain And Glory’, ‘Until The Next Time’. It is a natural show closer and by the end the band are totally obscured by the obligatory stage invasion. I’m guessing they’re a nightmare for security. I love it.

The fresh air was so welcome post gig but I’d have happily struggled through another two hours of the live force of nature that is Dropkick Murphys. To paraphrase one of Nottingham’s favourite adopted sons ‘I wouldn’t say Dropkick Murphys are the greatest live band in the business but they’re in the top one’.

Set List
The Lonesome Boatman
The Boys Are Back
Hang 'Em High
I Had a Hat
Rebels with a Cause
The State of Massachusetts
Famous for Nothing
Going Out in Style
Rose Tattoo
Sunday Hardcore Matinee
The Fields of Athenry
Paying My Way
Here Comes the Night
Barroom Hero
Do or Die
Never Alone
Boys on the Docks
You'll Never Walk Alone
First Class Loser
Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya
Out of Our Heads
Worker's Song
If the Kids Are United
I'm Shipping Up to Boston

Until the Next Time

Friday, 30 June 2017

Isle Of Wight Festival 2017 - Part Five - Broken

Sunday 10th June

So fully 20 days after the festival finished we come to the final instalment. To any prospective employers out there I'm usually a tad more efficient than this. In my defence (again) I've attended a wedding followed by the mightiest of hangovers, been to a Dropkick Murphys gig, wrote a review and been fitted for reading glasses (is fitted the right word? At least I can read this waffle I write now). So lets see how much IOW stuff I can remember.

Two Bang Bang Romeo sets today but first up was Heavy Suns down at This Feeling. The band nearly didn't make it after a run in with the law on the drive in. (An insurance thing but for future liner notes we'll just go with 'a run in with the law'). They'd brought beer. Lots of it. With my supplies running low and my finances even lower I gladly welcomed the help yourself offer. I may have took the piss slightly and can only apologise. They gave me a t-shirt too. Thanks for spoiling me chaps. 

Similar to Leeds Fest last year they've drawn the short straw on stage times. 12.10pm is hard enough at any time. On a Sunday of a festival when everyone is flagging it's a real tester. Heavy Suns are a band more than up to the task though. Thankfully a sizable crowd for that time of day enjoying the raw psychedelic indie blues of Barnsley's finest. They're a band that every time I get a new song through it's another step up. I'd love to see these guys on with The Shimmer Band. That'd be some gig. 

Heavy Suns -  Ross' 1989 Barnsley shirt looking the business
Back to ligging and nicking the band's beer before having a wander over to the Big Top. Jimmy Mac was there. I'd just left him at This Feeling. Cloned I tell you. Got accosted by security again over the can I was swilling from though given it was from a band's rider he didn't really have a leg to stand on. Once I'd explained what a rider was. 

Judas were up next at the Big Top, another band going from strength to strength. Anthemic guitar driven rock with hooks to die for. They've cornered the market on catchy tunes and singalong choruses. Delivered with a drive, quality and passion that many big names have long since forgotten about. John Clancy owns the stage in his own enigmatic style. They really are a class act. I got a little emotional again and left a note on their tent saying how awesome I thought they were. 

Shameless name dropping time again: Peter Crouch recognised me from Leeds Fest. Actually, he probably recognised the hat but we had a brief chat and he agreed to come down for BBR later. 

Back to This Feeling to hang again (I was hanging by this time) with the Heavy Suns boys and to drunkenly ask George Holmes if there were any jobs going before getting down to Hard Rocks for Bang Bang Romeo's first set of the day. Found TV's Chris Walker again (think I may start referring to him as 'Ken from Pontefract'). Crouchy was there as promised along with another sizable crowd basking in the Sunday afternoon sun. A shortened set from the Big Top gig (Cemetery and Beautiful World were dropped) but still mesmerising. It has to be said that BBR have a canon of work extensive enough for two double albums and a full blown 4 hour live rock opera. How they whittle down to an 8 song set I have no idea. I'm guessing the discussions for the track listing on the debut album have been going on long into the night. 

One of the problems with the Hard Rock stage is that it's on the route down to the main stage so you get a lot of people just walking past, which can be demoralising. Also it's a great place to just sit and chill with a beer so the music can just be a background noise. One of the great things about the Hard Rock stage though is that it's on the route to the main stage, plenty of people walking past to grab the collective attention of. Also a lot of people just sit chilling with a beer with the music as background noise, an audience in waiting. All you've got to have is the songs and stage presence to harness all these people into a crowd, dancing and singing and braying for more. 

It goes without saying that happened.

The next five hours are all about This Feeling again. After bemoaning the lack of hammocks and free cocktails back stage at Hard Rock this year we wended our way back up to Jack Rocks in time to catch Paves being magnificent again. Tikz went all Cabbage on us and scaled the heights

Photo courtesy This Feeling

and for final song, 'Take Me While I'm Here', they are joined on stage by a plethora of members of other bands. It's par for the course this weekend.

Photo courtesy This Feeling
Bang Bang Romeo have dressing room access now at This Feeling so more beer, sarnies and phone charging. For some reason after 14 years without an earring in I decided to see if the piercing still worked with one of Charlotte's loops. It did and I looked suitably ludicrous.

Back out front for Liberty Ship, a band I first caught supporting BBR at Doncaster Social, I think nearly 5 years ago, at what I believe was Rich Gartland's first BBR gig. Liberty Ship are a band I somehow keep missing though (they're playing Donny Leopard next week and I'm gonna miss that one too). Thankfully I've caught up a bit and seen them 3 times in the last few weeks. They still look ridiculously young. They have a brand of infectious indie/pop that just blows you away. IOW was by far the best I've seen them with a footnote that a week later at Leeds Wardrobe they were even better. A band truly on fire at the moment. 

Photo courtesy This Feeling
Bang Bang Romeo time again for arguably their most fun set of the weekend. No pressure on this one. They were truly playing to the converted. You could feel the love across the tent for our heroes. Saying that, they didn't relax for one minute. On stage BBR are consummate professionals and give everything, every gig they play. Nothing is left on stage. Inexplicably I threw my hat on stage at one point. I have no idea why. Stars lobbed it back at me. It was a touching moment. Rich, Joel and Ross gave it the proper rock star ending as Adore Me crashed around almost, but never quite, out of control. It looked truly (excuse me) fucking awesome. 

Photo courtesy This Feeling
I'd said way back when the line ups were first announced I wasn't bothered about seeing Rod Stewart unless it was all purely Faces material. One sniff of 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy' or 'Sailing' and I was gonna be out of there. But of course I was gonna go see him. It was Rod The Mod after all. We had no Chinese, Japanese, Thai meeting point this year. It was a bit of a free for all vague meet near the big wheel kinda thing. Myself and Heavy Suns' Tom Laffey had a wander down and couldn't find anyone but as I made myself feel better by sharing all my nicked beer with Tom, Rod was up on stage nailing it. So much for my Faces only claim. We had a right singalong to 'Baby Jane', 'You Wear It Well', 'Rhythm Of My Heart' and 'The First Cut Is The Deepest'. Then the opening licks of my favourite faces song (And Tom's too it transpired), 'Ooh La La'. We were off. Singing and dancing for all we worth. It was a truly memorable and magnificent moment.

Someone spotted the hat and we ended up with all our compadres having a simply awesome time. 'Do ya Think I'm Sexy' kicked in and of course we all sang like it was the greatest song ever written. 'Stay With Me' meant the music snob in me could justify all this before the mass, arms round shoulders love in of set closer 'Sailing'. It was genuinely an emotional moment. (Somewhat spoiled for Joel as a new fan asked for a photo with him just as Rod was wrapping it up). 

Rod left the stage as fireworks flew, the screen reeled off IOW credits and 'Don't Look Back In Anger' filled the air. The biggest singalong I have ever witnessed.

We all headed back to This Feeling where I bumped into Holly and Rich. Holly was waxing lyrical about a band playing at the Kashmir Cafe tent. Tankus something. 'TANKUS THE HENGE?' I very loudly exclaimed. 'Take me there at once'. Oh god I love Tankus The Henge. A sublime live act if ever there was one. I had no idea they were at IOW this year. I only caught the last 4 songs but it was truly the greatest ending to a festival ever. 

And that was that. Isle Of Wight Festival (finally) done for another year. 50th anniversary next year. Rolling Stones rumoured to be touring the UK in 2018. Just a thought.


Thursday, 22 June 2017

Isle Of Wight Festival 2017 - Part Four - Every Time You Close Your Eyes

Saturday 12th June (cont).

So after a bit of a break the Isle Of Wight saga continues. I was emotionally drained from the last entry and needed time, man. Plus I had a day in Sheffield with my girlfriend, wrote the Cask Corner quiz, had internet issues and was just generally lazy. Talk Talk have blamed the weather and/or a non-existent pet for the internet issues. Plus I wrote the whole thing then managed to delete it all somehow, which is a shame 'cos there were some really good bits that I can't remember now. Me and technology just don't get on.

You find me back in the Big Top VIP bar trying to compose myself after Bang bang Romeo's blistering set. I would have chilled in the dressing room probably until their Hard Rock set on the Sunday but The Strawberries were due on stage at This Feeling Jack Rocks so I was back out into the blistering sun, speed walking my way across the site. I'm not built for speed. I'm not even sure I'm built for walking. Hammocks I can do but they were sadly lacking this year.

My relationship with The Strawberries began at Leeds Fest last year and they are firmly installed as one of my favourites of the up coming crop. Ridiculously young but with a sound that harks back to the best in psychedelic rock whilst still remaining fresh and original. Kind of retro way ahead of their time. (I've realised writing this I love an oxymoron). Their presence and musicianship is impeccable. New single 'She Rhymes To Get Away' is simply one of the greatest songs I've ever heard. 

The Strawberries
I could talk about The Strawberries for ages but we've a lot to get through.They are joined on stage for the last song, 'Laburnum House', by Tom from The Blinders (another one of my favourites - actually can we just take it as read that virtually every band mentioned here are one of my favourites).

Sam Strawberry & Tom Blinder
This happened a lot on the This Feeling stage this weekend and kind of sums the whole thing up. All the bands hang out together back stage and are stage front (or, as mentioned, on stage) when their compadres are playing. Not just at festivals though. You go to any This Feeling gig and you will see members of other bands in the crowd. I said last year how it felt like one big family, it's moved on from that. It feels like a movement now - a defiant rallying call against all those saying guitar music is dead and that there are no quality new bands anymore. There really is. They're here right now and it doesn't take too much effort to find them. Go to any This Feeling gig and you will come away having seen your new favourite band (or more than likely bands). Mikey Jonns will go down in music history as the man who has worked his arse off, for over ten years now, to give these bands a deserved platform. With people like Aaron Procter and George Holmes tirelessly grafting too, not just at festivals but at gigs across the country, week in, week out there really is no end to how far this movement can go. I feel very honoured and very lucky to be a very small part of it. Of course none of this could happen without the talent and it is testament to every act that played that the This Feeling Jack Rocks tent was pretty much rammed all weekend. 

Backstage Heavy Suns have arrived and are already on it, I talk football kits with Ross Micklethwaite (his chosen stage attire for Sunday is a rather fetching Barnsley shirt circa 1989), The Shimmer Band cruise in and I drunkenly tell them how much I love them. (Seriously, it was a proper arms round the shoulders, 'You're my besht mate, I love you,' moment. I'm still cringing about it). The Blinders are hanging out with Strange Bones, Mint (with damaged bass player) are deep in conversation with The Surrenders, Paves are telling The Jackobins about my hugs, The Assist are having a kickabout. I love this.

The Blinders are next up, probably the most talked about band this year. Not only the most exciting band I've seen recently but probably ever. Even if you're not a fan you simply can't ignore them. Tom Haywood resplendent in a Native American headdress and obligatory face make up, Matty Neale a frenzied ball of sweat on drums - the perfect juxtaposition to the ever-cool Charlie McGough on bass. (I'm sure being that good looking must be illegal). 

(I may owe Alan Wells photo credit here. Even if I don't credit to Alan for being a seriously top bloke).

The Blinders beg, plead, insist and demand that you listen to them. They pound their way into your mind, your heart and your soul. They are simply a force of nature. 

Back backstage and I arrange an Arcade Fire date with Tom before heading to the Hard Rock stage to catch Paves. I've not seen Paves for well over 8 months and it's been far too long. A blues/rock outfit who play with the assured certainty of Ronnie Scott veterans. Luke's vocal belies his slender frame, gorgeous and powerful in equal measure. Another high energy performance, Luke, Perry and Tikz are never still while Tom is just a blur on drums. I've never seen them complete a set without at least one member departing the stage (Perry's stage dive at Leeds Fest is the stuff of legend now). It's Tikz this time who finds himself in the photo pit, for a considerable length of time. It's a killer of a stage to get back on. 

Picture credit Alex Voss
It's another blistering set from a band destined for bigger and better. I nicked this video from their facebook page:


Time for another wander, The Kooks on the main stage. I like The Kooks but it's still all sounding a bit flat down there. I wander back to my tent to grab some more contraband beer and stumble across Mel C at the Big Top. Bizarrely this is the second time I've seen her live. She was at V99, probably one of her first solo gigs. She sang Anarchy In The UK ('I am an antichrist, I am a Sporty Spice'). That went down well. Today though she was sounding (and looking) good. Beers grabbed and smuggled in. I say smuggled, I'd still only had the one altercation with security and I'm back at This Feeling to catch the end of Strange Bones - another joyous raucous wall of noise. I saw them recently at Donny Social but really wish I'd caught the full IOW set and not dithered about Kooking etc. 

The Wholls are next up. BBR stablemates on ZY Records and another band I'm seeing for the first time. The Wholls are simply pure, infectious rock 'n' roll. Right from the off your feet are going, then you're grinning inanely before your body follows what your feet started. Another band to check out at your earliest convenience. 

The Wholls - Thanks to This Feeling for the pic

Next up are the two bands I've not seen before who I'm most excited about seeing - Arcade Fire on the main stage but first The Shimmer Band at This Feeling. I love The Shimmer Band (we've established that) but managed to keep missing them live for a variety of reasons. The Bristol 5 piece kick straight into What Is Mine and from the off they have the crowd in the palms of their hands. It's another wall of noise, this time majestic, exhilarating, anthemic, euphoric. If The Stone Roses hadn't had the enforced hiatus between their two albums this is the band they would have mutated into. Only not as good. Tom Newman can sing for one thing. They are my favourite addiction. I stand by my drunken I love you. 

The Shimmer Band
Again I could talk all night about The Shimmer Band but time is pressing and I don't think I could ever articulate just how staggeringly good they are.

We head to the main stage where Arcade Fire are already up and running. Amazingly we find all our fellow travellers and get pretty close to the front. Sadly this is more than likely down to poor ticket sales. I count ten people on stage. It could be more. My eyesight isn't what it was. There's a lot of interchanging of instruments too just to confuse me. With 5 albums to go at (including next month's release Everything Now) they have quite the catalogue to throw our way. At times maybe a tad self indulgent but you kind of expect that from Arcade Fire. We get three new songs, we get Rebellion (Lies), we get The Suburbs, we get Neighbourhood #1 & #3, (Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) comes complete with a Saynor/Sercombe kazoo duet. We nailed it). It's absolute pandemonium. A host of people simply having a good time and embracing the quality that is Arcade Fire. At one point myself and Joel have Blinders' Tom stood on our shoulders, briefly. Balance was an issue and he went crashing into the crowd. 

This video says way more about the gig than I ever could - the BBR/Paves/Blinders/Arcade Fire love-in. I'll be honest, I was flagging. 


They end with Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), (Arcade Fire love brackets as much as me), and it's back to the tents, stopping off for Ross to get all rock star as we have an impromptu Chemical singalong.

Groupies aren't what they used to be
Apart from a few post gig beers that was Saturday. We'll get to the end of this marathon blog eventually. I'm pencilling in Monday. (Saturday has a wedding, Sunday has a radio show and a visiting girlfriend). 


Monday, 19 June 2017

Isle Of Wight Festival 2017 Part Three - The Tears Of A Clown

Saturday 10th June

So 2am finds myself, Sam and Holly waiting for the Bang Bang Romeo charabanc to touch down. Quite a week for the band: Oxford on Wednesday with Starsailor, recording some TV on Thursday, the NME Lock In on Friday, an acoustic set on the ferry from Southampton and now gearing up for 3 sets at the IOW Festival (Big Top, Hard Rocks & This Feeling). You can never accuse them of not putting the work in. 

They followed the beacon in (I'm sure the hat is the only reason I keep getting invited back) and after hugs it was back to camp, apart from Joel and Alan (Joel's Dad, van driver, bass player with Monkey Dust and all round top bloke) who went to see what this year's site had to offer.

I awoke to find the the sun had done it's thing on the Friday. And to think I'd told everyone they'd need wellies

Either that or I'd been sleepwalking through white paint.

A more successful shower this morning before the compulsory wander for bacon and coffee. Inexplicably ended up with a waffle instead of bacon. Bumped into Paves again. Two days in and I'm already in a routine. Also bumped into Sharron and TV's Chris Walker, which was a relief. Chris too had caught the sun. For me its just meant trying not to leave my DNA everywhere all week as the inevitable happened. For Chris it meant explaining to his Doctors bosses that they'll have to rewrite some kind of Sergeant Rob Hollins in mystery sunburn in October incident (he's currently filming Halloween stuff). Either that or spend six hours in make up.

Today was gig day for Bang Bang Romeo, Big Top - same as last year but in a better slot, 2.45. It was also the only two must see bands on the main stage day for me - Slow Readers Club and Arcade Fire. First job was to sort all the Big Top passes out. I say job, I just followed Sam and the band around as they liaised with their management (ZY Records) to get everyone sorted. The later slot meant I could check out the opening band on This Feeling, The Surrenders. A band that effortlessly mix blues and psychedelic rock and deliver it with style and panache. Seriously, these guys were class. 

We got the call that all the passes were ready and we could get into the Big Top dressing room. As Slow Readers Club took to the main stage I was rounding people up and trying to be useful. I could hear them, just couldn't see them. It almost counts. Once again Sam forbade me to carry owt (bloody hernia. Bizarrely very few people seemed interested in seeing or touching it. Shame. I like to share) so I just sat in the dressing room charging my phone and drinking the band's beer and explaining to anyone who would listen about my relationship with BBR (7 years now. That's more than some of my marriages put together) while Stars' team got to work.

We left the band to get stage ready and retired to the VIP Big Top bar pre gig. (I know right!! I am very, very aware of how lucky I am). Bumped into the omnipresent Jimmy Mac for the first of about 80 times that weekend. Jimmy is a grafter. So much so that I'm certain he's cloned himself. No man can do that much work and be in that many places. Last year at the Big Top the band started with a decent sized crowd that grew as they played. This year it was already heaving before they set foot on stage. 

Pretty much since Leeds Fest last year the band have been camped in the studios recording their debut album. When that hits it's gonna be a monster. As per, the songwriting machine that is Ross Cameron has been churning out gem after gem. There are three relatively new songs in today's set. They start with 'Johannesburg' from the Chris Kimsey produced 'We Were Born' EP. Joel's bass leading the band into a gorgeous dusk laden nightmare.

Joel Philips

The band seem to have gone up yet another level. Joel Philips and Richard Gartland are as tight a rhythm section as you will find. They've found that telepathy that all great rhythm sections need. Joel's fluidity letting Rich throw in fills that you wonder how he'll ever get out of. You're still wondering as the songs fly to further heights. 

Richard Gartland

All this allows Ross to twist his guitar straight through the heart of the songs whilst simultaneously caressing them, sometimes to within an inch of their lives. When you wake up at night thinking you've heard a noise and don't know whether to be scared or relieved that all is safe? That's Ross Cameron's guitar. 

Plus, to quote Radio X's Gordon Smart, 'He's too good looking to be a man'. I'm not jealous at all.

Ross Cameron
The band make a glorious, sumptuous, monstrous, massive beautiful noise. It's needed to back the sheer power of Anastasia Walker's voice. I honestly believe that no other musicians could do credit to the weapons that Stars has in her locker. They are truly a band. More than a band. A gang. A powerhouse. A complete unit up there on stage. Of the highest magnitude.

Anastasia Walker
The band power through the Cameron/Walker penned new song that is 'Runaway' before the opening licks of 'You And I'. Any band, ANY BAND, on the planet would kill just for the intro. Stars sings of a 'loaded pistol' and that's just how the band deliver it. Richard's gunfire pounding beat deflected by Ross' impenetrable guitar as Stars voice soars and dives through every soul there. Many, many words will be written in years to come about the power, range and magnificence of this voice. None will do it justice. 

'Cemetery' is next up. First time I've heard it live for a couple of years at least. It's always had a special spot for me. Not only is it a stunning tune but with the parenthesised 'Ode To The Independent Record Store' it was always gonna have a place in my heart. Sadly my record shop is no more. Cemetery indeed. Still, it's good to have it back sounding better than ever. 

New single (released the same day) 'Chemical' follows. It's the song I've heard the band perform most. Ross wrote it many, many years ago. This new reworking is sublime though. It's the sound of a band who know just how good they are and just where they are going. It's a breathtaking plea that love must be more than just a chemical reaction. Musically and lyrically it has taken on it's own life. It's a force of nature. If you haven't bought it yet do so. 


Despite the countless times I've heard it before it is 'Chemical' that brings the first tear to my eye. Seeing a band (and your mates) on a big stage, tearing it up, looking like they were born to be there is just something I don't think I'll ever get tired of witnessing. I am indescribably proud of these guys.

Two new songs follow. 'Natural Born Astronaut' is as close to pop as they get but it still undoubtedly has the BBR hallmark. The chorus is ridiculously infectious. Stand out moment has to be the 5,4,3,2,1 countdown mid song that you fully expect to lead into a joyous cacophony but instead we get an acapella Stars sounding almost vulnerable. Once more an example of the supreme songwriting that abounds here. Interestingly Astronaut is Greek for Starsailor. Given the relationship the two bands have built recently (Starsailor's Barry Westhead has played keys live with BBR a few times now and appears on the upcoming debut album) it's wonderfully apt. Things slow down with the gorgeous, melancholic 'Beautiful World'. I'm not the only one crying now.

Former closer 'Invitation' is the penultimate song of the set, still a rousing beast of a song. The 'I have a question' call and response getting louder every time. Stars stage presence is second to none. You have a feeling right there that anything she asked of the crowd she'd get.

A reworked Adore Me is installed as set closer now. It is, and has always been, not only a thing of beauty but one of my favourite songs ever. It is haunting. It's a desperate plea to be loved. It's a plea that can't be resisted. (On a personal note the band dedicated this song to me at Tramlines 2 years ago just as I was undergoing heart surgery. I can never thank them enough for that). Now though the song mutates into a raucous finale. Stars says her farewells and the band take centre stage thrashing every last drop out of the emotion sodden Big Top. Joel in particular looks every bit the rock star as he batters his bass into submission. I'm not just crying now. I'm roaring. I don't care. It's tempting to steal Jon Landau's 'I saw the future of rock 'n' roll' quote on seeing Springsteen for the first time. They were that good.

The world truly is theirs.

Just writing this has left me emotionally drained again. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Many thanks to Rutherford Photography for the use of the BBR photos.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Isle Of Wight Festival 2017 Part Two - It's A Waiting Game

Friday 8th June

So the rain finally wandered off at about 2am having failed to break the IOW spirit. The acid reflux had been lansoprazoled to hell and I slept. By the time I woke the sun was giving it the full beams. I sat half in, half out my tent and reflected. I was warm and dry. I'd already seen some quality bands. OK my phone and camera were dead but my mates were arriving today. All was good.

Last year I didn't brave the showers and kidded myself that wet wipes would keep me fresh. They really don't. So showers it is. There's no pleasant way of saying this. The first cubicle I went in had a turd in it. I mean, c'mon!! The toilets can be seen from the showers, it's hardly a long walk, and failing that we're surrounded by bloody fields. Who felt the need to crap in a shower? Twat. I quickly dived in the second cubicle. All good. Thought I'd just check the flow. It went everywhere. Clothes soaked. Again. Still, at least it worked. Got in the shower properly only to find out I'd picked up my mouthwash instead of shower gel from the tent. I also found out that stood under the shower the flow did in fact go everywhere apart from on me. Managed to miss me totally. And I'm a big unit! So ten minutes of dancing around getting wet I come out smelling minty fresh. Except the showers were boiling so I came out sweating more than when I went in. Still better than wet wipes though. And the sun was shining and my mates were arriving later etc.

The plan was that two car loads of my fellow festival goers would be on the 1pm ferry while the band would be arriving in the early hours having played the inaugural NME Lock In in that London on Friday evening. I wandered into the site in search of bacon and a coffee and with the hope of bumping into Chris and Sharron. I didn't. I did bump into the Paves though which is always a pleasure. Singer Luke had managed to stay dry all Thursday night till some 6'5" idiot in a soaking wet orange poncho leapt on him. I apologised. Luke has long championed the healing properties of my hugs (it's due to the stupidly long arms) and booked one in for 5pm Saturday around the time of their Hard Rock Stage set.

I carried on my wander, found the greatest coffee ever but no Chris. Obviously I have no relevant photos now but here's one I took earlier.

There was bugger all happening musically so I loitered in my tent with beer and an unresponsive phone. It did kick in long enough for me to message Sam (driver of car 2 carrying the WAGS (Charlotte, Katrina, Holly and Alanah (technically not a WAG but, er, hang on, I've totally lost track of theses brackets now))). I think that's right. Told Sam my phone was dying and I'd meet them at the same place we camped last year. Got the message back to say they were gonna miss their ferry then my phone gave up completely.

It was still sunny but very windy so I failed to notice my legs gently sizzling on gas mark 8 as I waited. Thankfully not for long. Sarah, Patch and Robbo (3 welcome additions to last year's expedition) hadn't missed the ferry and trollied up desperate to make camp before the rest arrived. Robbo had bought his tent only the day before. I say tent. It was a blow up mansion. We could have hosted dinner parties in it. (I think it's where Bang Bang Romeo filmed the Chemical video - yeah you've not seen that yet have you. Well when you do you'll get it). The third wave finally landed at about 5pm. We battled with new tents and the wind and moved pop up tents round till we had our 'circle of love'. I nearly herniated my hernia trying to blow up an air bed. I'm 49 you know. We could hear Rag 'N' Bone Man in the distance and decided we should finally go check out some music.

Kaiser Chiefs.

Sorry for the language but for fuck's sake! 

I agreed to go, one, 'cos I wanted the company and, two, to show how awful they are. They didn't let me down. OK the sound wasn't great, the wind was taking some of it on a merry dance somewhere above The Solent and the screens weren't working but Kaiser Chiefs bravely battled against this to show what an appalling band they have become. Not sure if it's coming across but I'm not a fan.

We headed promptly back to This Feeling Jack Rocks stage where Aaron Procter kindly furnished us with back stage wristbands and we ligged between bands. Told Mint and Plastic People how awesome I thought they were, kissed one of The Blinders (Matty I think, it's already getting hazy) and generally hugged people. It would be impossible to mention every band I saw at This Feeling so sadly I'm gonna have to cherry pick a bit. Broken Witt Rebels get the award for most improved. They've gelled into a seriously tight rock 'n' roll band and easily went on my 'gotta see again soon list'. 

We headed over to the Big Top to catch the end of Alison Moyet's set, the second best singer appearing on that stage this weekend. There was a desire from some of the group to catch Run DMC on the main stage. I was never a huge fan and again a band battling against dodgy sound. They also seemed intent on alienating 98% of the crowd by dedicating every song to the 'real' Run DMC fans who had been with them since the '80s. Really wish I'd stuck to my guns and watched The Jackobins.

Back to the Big Top for The Pretenders, another of my all time favourites although I'd not seen them since 1987! They were magnificent. Chrissie Hynde has never sounded (or looked) better. Before one song she dedicated it to one of the greatest ever songwriters, a guy from Muswell Hill. 'That'll be Ray Davies then', said I. 'Ray Davies' confirmed Chrissie before going into The Kinks' Stop Your Sobbing. An elderly lady in front of me looked at me in what can only be called awe as I regaled her with the tale of Chrissie and Ray. I thought everyone knew. 

Brass In Pocket was still ringing in my ears as I hot footed it back to This Feeling to catch the end of False Heads (brilliant, slightly anarchic and wonderfully messy) and final act Trampolene. There's been a lot of hype about Trampolene and rightly so, another joyous cacophony of guitar laden gems and the greatest stage dive of the weekend. (I'm gonna see if I can nick a photo here). 

Courtesy Will Ireland Photography

So after a slow and dubious start to the day I'd seen some truly awesome bands again. I avoided the churros/hot chocolate combo and we headed back to base to await Bang Bang Romeo's arrival. 

More ligging tomorrow.