Gig City – Kiran Leonard, The Nest, Bath

KIRAN LEONARD / IRMA VEP / THE EVIL USSES – The Nest, Bath – Saturday 2nd April 2016

Kiran Leonard is a force to be reckoned with. At the age of 20 and while still a student he has already put out two albums, in addition to numerous other tracks that can be found on his Soundcloud account here

He’s gained kudos from BBC 6 Music (Marc Riley in particular is deeply smitten) and XFM, and the new album “Grapefruit” ( the follow-up to 2014’s “Bowler Hat Soup”) is receiving rave reviews from what seems like the entire blogosphere for its poise, originality and – let’s be clear – for rocking like a bastard.

“Grapefruit” has been a long time in the making, many of the tracks having been road-tested, tinkered with and developed live (like the Pink Floyd used to do all those years ago until they got fed up with being bootlegged). There are certainly a few of the tracks played tonight that have changed noticeably – for the better in all cases – since I last heard them played live a year or so ago.

(BTW a couple of tracks from the album are featured on Beat City #72 featuring “Grapefruit” by Kiran Leonard plus a few more tunes you may like)

Kiran takes the stage so quietly you’d hardly notice, straps on his guitar,removes his shoes and without a word the band dive straight into the astonishing 16-minute “Pink Fruit”, an excerpt of which is included below, one of two extended multi-movement pieces on the records and comfortably the most complex of the manby complicated tunes in the set – no poncey warming up with the easy options here.

You may have heard “Pink Fruit” on the radio. It goes through at least five movements that I can identify. This music seems to have come out of nowhere, although if pressed I’d say there are hints of Frank Zappa and maybe the likes of Gentle Giant and King Crimson, next to Jane’s Addiction and maybe the art-rock with a hint of grunge of dEUS.

Kiran stands stage left and side on to the audience, like a conductor facing his band which consists of a violinist / keyboard player, bass and drums. There are some seriously challenging arrangements for the players in this music, and the band are more than up to the task. I’ve never seen such a well-drilled band playing such complex music.

And this IS complex music, make no mistake, but crucially, its not complicated. There are arrangements in 5/8 and 13/8 time here, but you never find yourself thinking “ooh thats clever” – its always the song that’s important, and its always the song that wins through.

And you NEED these odd time signatures to create the effects Kiran Leonard is after. I honestly don’t think anyone has done anything like this before although I stand to be corrected on this.

And then there’s the guitar playing. No mile long guitar solos here, and equally no five minute wig outs on the one chord,but short, violent outbursts as and when required – Richard Thompson is the closest reference point I can hear. Like Dave Tattersall’s work with the Wave Pictures, it enhances the song, it isn’t the point of the song. Course, if you’re a songwriter of the quality of Tattersall or Leonard then that always helps.

Kiran’s songwriting indicates a refusal to be pinned down to any one musical idea for any length of time. Musical motifs swirl in and out of the songs at will. The light and shade is masterful; yes, there is a comparison to be made with grunge but where Nirvana and their ilk were working in black and white, ranging from very quiet to very loud, Leonard and his band visit all points inbetween as well.

Both support acts are pretty good – Irma Vep, who Kiran and members of his band provide the backing for, and opening the show, Bristol-based instrumental band The Evil Usses, who I thought were tremendous, bringing to mind Zappa and Beefheart as well as the Pink Floyd and Pigbag, none of which is ever a bad thing)

My personal fave tune of Kiran’s is “Don’t Make Friends With Good People”, a nine minute plus tune which starts with layers of kids’ TV folk guitar, breaks into a brutal section at which the Gang Of Four would nod approvingly before moving into an extended Tim Buckley strumscream, then finally ending with a prog explosion King Crimson may have achieved circa 1972.

The final track is his signature, “Geraldo’s Farm” , a song which builds and then drops away again them builds again to the most shattering of sonic climaxes you could wish to hear.

There’s a surprise encore – a cover version, no less – as Kiran plays a solo guitar-backed version of sixties girl-group The Tammys “His Actions Speak Louder Than Words”. Got to admit I wasn’t expecting that at all, it all adds to the puzzle and the enigma that is Kiran Leonard and his music. I did capture it on my phone but the sound quality was dire and there were EVIL PEOPLE TALKING, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE so you’ll have to make do with the classic original for now, shut your eyes and imagine.

If you’re quick and near Ramsgate, Cambridge or Nottingham you can catch Kiran and his band on tour this week. He’s also playing the excellent Dim Swn one-day multi venue fest in Cardiff on Saturday (April 9th).

And check out the “Grapefruit” album, it really is a leap forward in the gene pool of underground music. I haven’t quite got my head round its intricacies and references yet and I think it’ll be a while before I do, but I’m looking forward to getting to know it. Come back in six months for the review.

Previous Gig City – Meilyr Jones

Dutch Uncles. New Favourite Band.

Dutch Uncles – Rise Records, Bristol – Tuesday 15th January 2013

With HMV going into administration this week, the importance of places like Rise Records in Bristol cannot be overestimated.

On two floors in the trendy student area of Clifton, it has now undergone a refurbishment in which the ground floor is now a coffee shop, with the excellent music stock now limited to the first floor.

I won’t go into full details but just as an example, their Rockabilly section, as well as including the 50s and 60s classics, also includes The Cramps, who usually get incorrectly lumped in with Goth.

These guys know what they’re doing.

The other crucial addition is a space at the back of the coffee shop that turns into a music venue with a capacity of maybe 200.

This seems to be an excellent template for how independent record shops can survive in the current climate, and more power to them. They’ve announced loads more similar events – if you’re in the Bristol area check ’em out –  Rise Records in Bristol and support your local indie record shop

Much like the Metropolitan Police back in the day counting people on demonstrations, I’m not great at estimating the size of crowds but there seem to be around 150 people here digging the magnificent sounds of the first buzz band of 2013, Dutch Uncles.

They’ve been around for a few years, putting out a couple of albums and building a bit of a following and some airplay. In an era where bands come into the public eye far too quickly, before they’re the finished article, this is a fine old-fashioned way of doing things, very much in keeping with the band’s stated love for 70s Prog and King Crimson in particular. Bands were allowed to develop in those days.

This is one of a few in-store gigs the band is doing to promote it. The deal is, you buy the album on CD or vinyl and you get a download code and two tickets to an in-store. Being as how I’m very old, I went for the Gold Vinyl option at £13, and to be honest I’d have paid that for one gig ticket so it’s a bargain.

I haven’t been to an instore gig for a while, and they can be hit and miss depending on whether the band sees it as a contractual engagement they’d rather not do or a proper gig. Dutch Uncles are firmly in the latter category.

They play for a good hour, tight, organised, effective. There is even room for some serious freaky dancing from lead singer / pianist Duncan Wallis. I need to see what he does on a big stage, dude’s got moves! Imagine Martin Fry of ABC without such an industrial consumption of pies.

They start off with a couple of hits from previous LP “Cadenza” before playing the bulk of the brand spanking new “Out Of Touch In The Wild”.
There are a lot of complex songs on OOTITW, but all are played with panache and brio. The singles “Fester” and “Flexxin” get the biggest cheers, having been featured on Radio One, or so I’m told.

The band wear their prog and art-rock influences proudly, but these songs are so much better, catchier and more danceable than anything King Crimson or Talking Heads ever came up with.

There are bits that remind me of Van der Graaf Generator, Japan, Neu!, Grammatics and XTC. As influences go, you can’t get much better than that for my money.

Often, particularly with complex songs, the trap for a band when playing live is to lose the subtleties and speed up too much. Dutch Uncles, on their third album, do neither of these things. Indeed, the songs are given new depths and meanings in a gig context – I’d love to hear a live album from them some time.

Meantime, I’d recommend the album to anybody with ears.

Dutch Uncles website


Top Twenty Olympics Songs #20 – #16

Why are people proud of something that is an accident of birth? I’ve never really “got” patriotism. Sure, I get as worked up about the England football team as the next overgrown schoolboy, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love living in Britain, and London in particular, and there are a lot of great things about the country.

But it’s only twice in my life that I have I felt truly proud to be British, and both times involved “Chariots Of Fire”. The music is just so damn evocative … (written by Vangelis, a Greek!)

The first time was when I saw the film at the old Elephant And Castle Odeon in 1981 (on a double bill with “Gregory’s Girl”).

The second time was during last night’s incredible Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Fourteen hours after it finished and I’m still a little too overwhelmed to properly digest it all, so I will leave that to a future blog. But I will say that Danny Boyle included all the things that make me .. gulp .. proud to be British!

For now, with the Lympics in full flow on Day 1, here is the first part of my Olympic Top Twenty countdown.

Now I could have gone all obvious but I chose not to. At least, not here.

Check out Tony’s Really Obvious Jam For Olympics Week if its obvious you want!

No, I’ve gone for one song relating to each of the participating sports.

Now there are technically more than twenty sports in the Olympics. But I’ve limited it on the following grounds.

1. Nobody has ever written a song about handball, neither are they likely to.

2. Including Judo would involve excrutiating puns that are below even me, such as Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, and I’m after something different.

3. Beach volleyball is not a sport and you should all be ashamed of yourselves for watching it. If its scantily clad people with beautiful bodies you want, then try the Athletics, the Swimming or indeed, the Rest Of The Internet.

And so to part one, numbers 20 to 16.

20 – Equestrianism

Specifically Dressage, which has fascinated me today (albeit only for a few minutes).

It basically is exactly what the song says. Horses. Dancing. How cool is that?

Not a huge fan of the Bunnymen tbh although I did see them supporting the Teardrop Explodes at Sheffield University around 1979 or so.

Unfortunately I was too drunk to fully appreciated two of the most influential bands of the next few years. Just say no, kids.

19 – Taekwondo

I know nothing about Taekwondo other than there is quite a lot of kick-boxing in it.

I also know nothing about this band, but this song is a brilliant piece of nu-prog.

18 – Fencing

Derived from the highly dangerous activity of French noblemen settling disagreements by duelling. Pistols or swords? Well, if my opponent chose swords, I’d definitely go for pistols.

One of my least favourite of all the Olympic sports, but this gets in because this song by Tenpole Tudor is fantastic – years before singer Ed Tudor-Pole achieved greater fame as Richard O’Brien’s successor on “The Crystal Maze”.

17 – Archery

I was at Sheffield University around the time ABC first charted, and Martin Fry was a regular figure around the campus. He once tried to push in front of me in a newsagent’s, but I stood my ground.

True story.

This is from “The Lexicon Of Love”, what a great first album that was.

I’m loving Jonathan Agnew’s commentary on the Archery from Lord’s. The man can make anything sound momentous and interesting, in a very silly British way. Only thing missing is summaries from Vaughnie and Tuffers.

16. Wrestling

This is a song called “Let’s Wrestle” by a band called Let’s Wrestle. It concerns wrestling.

Superb, funny, ballsy band with great tunes and the odd excellent turn of phrase. Their first album was called “In The Court Of The Wrestle Let’s”, to which all old King Crimson fans will nod knowingly.

One of the top wrestling nations is Kazakhstan. When you’re watching the wrestling, something to think about is that all the competitors in the ancient Greek Olympics were naked. Go on, imagine that.

Next up, the countdown from 15 down to 11. Some absolute classics in there. See you then. Comments welcome, it’d make a change from the spammers.