Gig Guide – w/e Sun 25th August

This week is far more promising than last week for LDN gigs. Must be coming up to summer’s end or something, which is sad as we’ve had the best summer for years. OTOH, it does mean the autumn giggage season will soon be upon us, woo hoo!

Spector – Madame Jojos, Soho, Tuesday

One of the most exciting mainstream indie prospects in years. Watch this half-hour set from Reading last year. Then imagine how great they’d be in a sleazy club environment.

Then get a ticket for their White Heat gig at Madame Jojo’s in Soho.

Arbouretum – Borderline, Tuesday

Nobody sounds quite like these guys, who have something of The Band about their ragged, doomy classic folk-rock sound. Touring their fifth album “Coming Out Of The Fog”

Lloyd Bradley talk – Rough Trade West, Thursday (6pm)

I first encountered Lloyd Bradley as the black music guy at the NME, and while I am eternally grateful to him for showing me there was more to music than Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, his body of work is far more impressive than simply contributing to the inky music papers.

This is the launch of his new book on the hidden history of Britain’s black music, tracing the journey from Lord Kitchener’s calypso to Dizzee Rascal’s Glastonbury triumphs with a panel of special guests the steel pan maestro and music historian Dr Lionel McCalman and Norman Jay MBE.

The Evening will be soundtracked by an exclusive mix inspired by the book by DJ Zed Bias.

Black music has been part of London’s landscape since the First World War, when the Southern Syncopated Orchestra brought jazz to the capital. Following the wave of Commonwealth immigration, its sounds and styles took up residence to become the foundation of the city’s youth culture.

Sounds like London tells the story of the music and the larger-than-life characters making it, journeying from Soho jazz clubs to Brixton blues parties to King’s Cross warehouse raves to the streets of Notting Hill – and onto soundsystems everywhere.

As well as a journey through the musical history of London, Sounds Like London is about the shaping of a city, and in turn the whole country, through different waves of immigration, which shows how the soul of the capital and the soul of its music cannot be separated.

Essential for anyone with an interest in the history of black music.

Deaf School – Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen, Friday

Liverpool’s Deaf School were one of the great unsung bands of the late seventies, perhaps the only thing stopping them being huge was simply that they weren’t punk. They still kick arse live to this day in their all-too infrequent live shows.

Sun Ra Arkestra – Cafe Oto (5 days from Friday)

Sun Ra was one of the most controversial and innovative figures in jazz music. In 2011 the legendary jazz big band played a sellout three night residency at Cafe Oto. Fronted by sax man Marshall Allen since Sun Ra’s untimely demise in 1993, they’re returning to play five nights straight at the same venue. This is a full hour’s worth of concert footage from 2009 to give you some idea of what to expect.

Arrows Of Love – Buffalo Bar, Friday

I first saw Arrows Of Love about five years ago supporting somebody at the 100 Club, and loved them. They went quiet for a while but reappeared about a year ago with some excellent new material. Definitely worth catching live.

Hawkwind – Shepherds Bush Empire, Saturday

The lords of Space Rock perform their classic 1975 album “Warrior On The Edge Of Time” in its entirety, and pretty damned good it is too if this clip from a gig at the Komedia in Bath earlier this year is anything to go by.

The Rutles / John Otway – “Lazy Sunday Afternoon” – Borderline, Sunday (afternoon)

Just like the real Beatles, there are only two members of the Rutles left, but since one of them is Neil Innes, this promises to be an excellent run through the Prefab Four’s finest hits.

Support from the legendary John Otway

which makes this the gig of the week, no question. See you down the front!

Gig Guide – w/e Sunday 18th August

It’s not peak time for gigs in London at this time of year but here’s a few cracking nights out you may be interested in.

Jello Biafra And The Guantanamo School Of Medicine – Dingwalls, Monday

One for all of us ageing punks at a loose end on a Monday evening. Jello fronted classic punk band the Dead Kennedys and hasn’t mellowed with age as the new album “White People And The Damage Done” attests :

Nadine Shah – Shepherds Bush Empire, Tuesday

Supporting Bat For Lashes, you could say this was too obvious a pairing of Britain’s foremost Asian female alternative musical talent. One thing that is certain is that Natasha “Bats” Khan will have her work cut out to match Shah, who has produced an excellent debut album “Love Your Dum And Mad”, a title worthy of 70s progsters Caravan (“Cunning Stunts” being their wordplay highlight).

Shah is a different animal entirely from Khan, though, with a deep, soulful voice that maybe shows the influence of her Pakistani father (her mother is Norwegian and she was raised in Newcastle)

Velcro Hooks – Shacklewell Arms, Tuesday

I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. Loud scuzzy guitar but not so loud that you can’t hear the dislocated, punky lyrics. Would not sound out of place in the New York punk scene circa 1976 – somewhere near Television or Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers.
Signed to Fierce Panda records, usually a guarantee of quality, this should be good.

Rose Elinor Dougall – Shacklewell Arms, Wednesday

Two great acts in a row at the Shacklewell. It’s all very well but over the past ten years, while I’ve been loosely based in West London on and off, which was fine circa 2006 to 2007 when all the cool gigs were in Camden. But unfortunately the centre of hip has since relocated East. Twice. First to Shoreditch and now it’s Dalston where the haircut kids mainly hang out. Hang around long enough and they’ll all be living in Colchester.

Rose Elinor Dougall was an original member of the superb Pipettes but since leaving a few years ago has been writing and recording pop songs of astounding quality that deserve a far wider audience. Her new single “Strange Warnings” could be the best thing she’s been involved with.

This gig is free, so if you’re anywhere in the vicinity, there’s no excuse for not turning up, really.

Mr Cat And The Jackal – Half Moon, Putney, Wednesday

This top South African band offers a theatrical show of pirates and beggars who sing ancient songs for music bootleggers. “For our massive repertoire we all pass around three dozen instruments to create our own sound. It’s salvation we dread, we’re five from the Cape where we ate, drank ‘n read and practiced our good ‘old folk tales from the sea and the land. Our songs will set sail with a whisky in hand – a spectacle of paradox-like discord to soothe, designing our songs for your soul to groove on”. Could be great – here’s a sample choon.

Cauls – Windmill, Brixton, Friday

Intriguing combination of post-rock and 80s melodic melancholia at the Windmill, also featuring Bloody Mammals, Great Cop and Pippos Progress. You can download Cauls’ latest EP from here :

http://cauls.bandcamp.com/album/ep-2-2

Skatalites – Jazz Cafe, Friday

The Skatalites were one of the biggest of the original Jamaican ska groups of the mid-sixties. There’s only sax player Lester Stirling of the original lineup of the band left standing but as this relatively recent (2003) live version of their best known song Guns Of Navarone shows, they’re still pretty tight. This music is eternal.

Deep Sea Arcade – Hoxton Kitchen & Grill, Saturday

Psychedelic Aussie five-piece owing no small debt to baggy, which seems to be making a comeback (see Swim Deep). You can guarantee that when an Aussie band plays London they will draw a crowd of homesick Ockers, and that doesn’t always mean they’re actually any good, but Deep Sea Arcade are the real deal. I’d pitch them somewhere between the slower stoner anthems of Tame Impala and the faster, poppier beats of Cloud Control.

This is the bargain of the week I’d say – eight of your English pounds only, what are you waiting for?

See you down the front!

Airborne Toxic Event and me. A love story.

5th November 2011, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

“This band means everything to us, its pretty much all we’ve got”

Every time I’ve seen The Airborne Toxic Event, singer Mikkel Jollett has said this towards the end of the gig.

If you’ve never seen the band then you may well think “Yeah, that’s bullshit” and I can see where you’re coming from – and I guess it has probably become an integral part of the show, like when Bruce Springsteen asks Miami Steve what time it is.

But you get the feeling that he means it.

The Airborne Toxic Event first came to my attention in November 2008 when they did a UK tour covering 30 gigs in 30 nights, including the more well-travelled cities but also places like Yeovil, Derby, Fife, Aldershot, Barrow In Furness, Dundee.

I’d be hard pressed to even GO to 30 gigs in 30 nights, even if they were all round the corner and I didn’t have to work.

I saw the band three times on that tour at their London residency, at gigs promoted by the excellent Club Fandango. (check out the video diary with a slightly bemused looking Steven Chen (guitar and keyboards) coming to terms with the UK)

Their first album had gotten a grey market UK release, forty minutes and ten tracks of sheer rock’n’roll genius, not a superfluous note or a wasted word.

The buzz got louder as to what a great live band they were. The crowd was bigger for each gig, and what a show they put on! In the tiny back room of the Dublin Castle in Camden they pounded out their songs of doomed love and big hooks. It was the closest I will ever get to seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Stone Pony, New Jersey.

And on the third night, when the singer jumped into the crowd for a bit of that old rock’n’roll down with the people stuff, he ignored all the adoring twenty-something girls, stuck his arm round my shoulders and the mike in my face, and I did the best I could to remember the words to “Gasoline”… Proud moment, although the cynical me did have room for the thought that he may have been trying to recreate the famous cover shot to “Born To Run”, and I was the only big fat brown man available.

Great band, great set of gigs.

So then through a series of personal mishaps on their part and having to leave the country for a while on my part (don’t ask), I went through 2009 and 2010 ATE-less. They cancelled a European tour in 2009 owing to ill-health and a couple of UK gigs too and I thought, well, that’s that. They’ve missed the boat now. Great band, fantastic album, at least we have the memories and they didn’t last long enough to get crap.

Early 2011. Back in the UK again, bit out of touch with music, scanning the TV listings and there on Sky Arts is a concert by The Airborne Toxic Event. At Disney Concert Hall (check name). Its lovely shot in B&W (check) with a choir and a marching band! There’s new songs! And a cover of the fabulous Magnetic Fields’ “The Book Of Love”!

Further investigation reveals a new album “All At Once” and, glory be, a UK tour ! They’re doing  a week of gigs in London, revisiting the smaller venues where they made their name locally. These gigs are sold out but I manage to get tickets for an intimate sit-down gig at the Drill Hall via Facebook.

And hearing them for the first time in stripped-down acoustic mode, its like listening to the songs again for the first time. They make so much sense sung quieter and less frenetically, and Mikkel’s extensive between-song yarns flesh out the story, which is, basically, that if a girl called Catherine hadn’t dumped him, all the great songs on the first album wouldn’t have been written.

Thank God for bad relationships. Happiness is overrated. At least when it comes to artists writing decent songs. But that’s a topic for another day…

So I seek out a ticket for any of the gigs in the rest of the week. I’m prepared to pay quite a lot.

Somebody on the fans forum has a spare for the Kings College gig and wants it to go to a fellow fan. I insist on payment, she refuses, so I end up buying her a drink in exchange for the ticket.

The gig is amazing, better than I have ever seen them play.

So up until April 2011 I had seen The Airborne Toxic Event five times for a grand total cost of £15.  Plus a pint of Guinness.

The ticket for Shepherds Bush Empire costs me more than the other five gigs combined – but the band is worth every penny, and then some.

A word about the songs. Lets be clear, there is nothing that original here. The Airborne Toxic Event are alchemists and mixers in the same way Blur and Oasis were. Mikkel knows exactly how to write a song, with the little pause before the whole song goes crazy – It is the utter conviction with which they play that makes the difference, its something that Springsteen has (obviously) and Dexys, and the Proclaimers, and the Hold Steady. None of those acts were particularly innovative, but they all bring a new freshness to the musical styles they plunder.

The stagecraft is superb – you do get that with American bands, they tend to be about putting on a show and less about being “too cool for school” than their British equivalents.

This is an excellent desktop backgroundmade by a far more dedicated fan than me and including some great shots of the gig, and a setlist also. Thanks Erfy. If that IS your real name… 8=)

No “Book Of Love” tonight which is a shame. They covered it before Peter Gabriel, and better than he did it. But check out the Magnetic Fields original , it’s the best version of the three.

And as for the encore… continuing the Brooce theme, they do an extended version of their chugging country rock anthem “Missy” incorporating snatches of “I’m On Fire”, ”I Fought The Law” and “Folsom Prison Blues”.

And its that triumvirate of Bruce, Clash and Cash that defines them, their influences and where they want to be.

There’s a genuine bond that exists between band and audience. I’ve never seen anybody else actually come down off the stage within five or ten minutes of the gig finishing for meet and greets, autographs and pictures. They do give the impression that they actually care about that stuff, and I’m still idealistic enough to think that’s important.

A quick word about the support band, Leeds’ The Chevin. Pretty standard anthemic indie but played well and vigorously and with enough in the songs to hold promise of things to come.

I reckon the best thing for them would be NOT to be hugely successful until the second album at least, lest they find themselves on the Big Pink path of premature expectation and end up writing a second album identical to the first.

In conclusion, as I type this I have by my side half a drumstick that drummer Daren Taylor tossed into the crowd at the end of the gig. Which I then got him to sign afterwards. I joke that it will be up on ebay tomorrow but we both know that I shall be treasuring it forever, along with the pick belonging to The War On Drugs and the setlists from The Broken Family Band. That’s right, setlists plural.

I should be way too old to get excited by that sort of thing – but there’s something about this band that turns me into a teenager again.

And ain’t that the whole function of rock music?