Sunday, 30 December 2018

CLUB UNIQUITY BIG SHOW, Duke’s Head, Somerleyton, 28 December 2018 review

Unlikely though it might seem, Somerleyton's Club Uniquity is the Hacienda of Waveney.

It’s easy to feel the thud of apathy in your soul when live entertainment events in and around Lowestoft are so badly attended or, at least, the ones I’ve been too have been. This is why, the afternoon after the night before at Club Uniquity – based at the Duke’s Head pub in Somerleyton – I’m still buzzing. In fact, when I got in last night, I was so stoked up I didn’t want to go to bed. For a man who’s usually in bed by half nine these days, that’s a breakthrough.

My friend Lurch saw the American singer/songwriter Dean Friedman at Club Uniquity in the summer. If a quiet little place in Somerleyton could attract a major US musician on an acoustic tour, then it had to be worth investigating. Then Lurch told me that it was run by Paul Johnson (left), who we were both at school with.

Paul Johnson. When we were all incarcerated at Benjamin Britten High School, he was one of the cool guys. Judging by the way his positivity, enthusiasm and just plain funny personality informs Club Uniquity, he still is. (Back at the old grey school, Paul’s band did Sex Pistols covers, and I remember being honoured that he asked me to do a Sid Vicious painting on the back of his leather jacket. That was the height of street cred at BBHS in 1979). 

The aesthetic of the club is very simple: it’s cool and comfortable, with sofas and padded stools, so you can sit and watch the various musical acts in a relaxed manner as you have a drink. There’s none of the self conscious atmosphere that can be generated, when the audience has to stand and fill the floor space in front of acts they don’t know, or when they’re corralled into regimented rows of chairs that make it hard to get a refill or visit the bathroom. A sign above the stage says ‘This Club Was Built With Love’, and that attitude resonates in everything from the soft, atmospheric lighting to the framed pictures of Debbie Harry and Madonna on the walls. So… me and Lurch were there for Club Uniquity’s Big Show, which is held once a month, presenting a selection of varied acts. 

First up was singer songwriter Yve Mary B (left). I can only appraise things through the crazy paving of my musical reference points, so to me Yve’s set suggested country rock like the Cowboy Junkies with maybe a nod or two to Joni Mitchell. Not really my personal taste, but her guitar playing was hypnotically melodic and Ye has an equally beguiling voice. At Paul’s urging, she did an encore and then was joined by a friend for a duet with Lauren Dove. Thisextra time’ was all good naturedly spontaneous, the kind of thing that the atmosphere of Uniquity positively encourages.

Riddle was a different proposition altogether, a young guy throwing himself around the stage like Iggy Pop learning his moves, with a sound that put me in mind of Bruno Mars, with some inspiration from vintage Prince. Riddle has a voice of great range, but I felt that he would be better off dropping the acrobatics, and should have enough confidence in his material to play his songs straight, as Yve did. Can’t fault his vocal craft, though, although his between song banter could be sharpened up, particularly when Paul stole a big laugh from the mixing desk with his comment that perhaps Riddle, “would like to have his first homosexual experience.”

Yve and Lauren were back next as they’re both in TransEuropa, Paul’s band, together with an excellent, smiley drummer called Dan. Paul’s upbeat attitude to life shines through in a dance act that, to my mind, appear to be the product of a chemical love-in between Screamadelica and Dreadzone. The vibe was ‘up’ and genuinely fucking epic!”. Praising Yve and Lauren’s synchronised dance moves and harmonised vocals, Paul couldn’t help but endear you to him, grinning about how delighted he was to be jamming with such creative people; also, there can’t be many performers who can keep singing while adjusting the sound levels at the mixing desk. I’d love to know if TransEuropa are playing any festivals next year – they’d go down an absolute storm.

With a real buzz now in the room, last up were Coronation Kings (left). This is where things get even more surreal for me. Myself and Lurch were not only at school with, but were in the same class as, lead singer and guitarist Richard Barrett... I didn’t really know what to expect but, like all the acts on this evening in various ways, the Kings’ set was class stuff. Again – and this is only my opinion – their focused, immediately infectious rock brought to mind some of Kings of Leon’s catalogue, with Richard’s vocals reminding me a bit of John Power from Cast. They were really, really good, and I wasn’t surprised to discover, after doing some checking this morning, that their two stand-out tracks, ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Domino’, were issued as singles. An album’s apparently due in early 2019, which needless to say I’ll be purchasing.

What a great night! Club Uniquity doesn’t even charge an entrance fee, and the bar prices were so reasonable that I was convinced I’d been undercharged all night. Not only that, but whoever’s in charge of the music in the Duke’s Head clearly has a real ear for classics, as The Who’s revolutionary call-to-arms ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ was blasting out when Lurch and I stopped by for a concluding pint. (Not surprising, then, that the best covers band round these parts, the Austin Beats, are playing at the Duke on New Year’s Eve.)

It’s worth saying one more time: Club Uniquity is fantastic. I’ll happily trot out the cliché that it’s one of this region’s best kept secrets, but with nights as life affirming as this, it won’t be for much longer.

All images copyright respective artists.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

MISSING BELIEVED WIPED, BFI Southbank, 15 December 2018

Gems from the BFI's annual archive trawl this year included animated Doctor Who, Morecambe and Wise and Mr Basil Brush (below).

Session 1: ‘Music and More’ 15:15, NFT1
Vince Hill at the Talk of The Town (1969) comes from an era when 40 minutes of television could be sustained just by the gifted vocals of a popular singer (bar one ill-advised and rather surreal detour into impersonating Ken Dodd, which Vince seemed to find a lot funnier than the audience). He discovered a 16mm film recording of this performance at the legendary West End venue in his garage, endearingly enough; recorded when he was in his pomp, with Vince's biggest hit ‘Edleweiss’ (from The Sound of Music) still serenading from the airwaves, the concert was a window on to a slick, easy listening world where hits of the day like the Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ could sit alongside Rogers and Hammerstein’s ‘Maria’ from West Side Story. After the screening finished, Vince and his party left the building, which moved presenter Dick Fiddy to quip that, after all these years, “he’s still got an entourage.”

The BFI has always had a mutual love affair with the BBC’s evergreen sci fi saga Doctor Who, normally being the first with premieres of new stories and the screening of ‘lost’ episodes. This afternoon’s Who presentation fell between the two, as producers Rob Ritchie and Anne Marie Walsh unveiled a new, ten-minute animated version of the first episode of the 1968 Patrick Troughton story The Wheel in Space.

The animations were devised to replace lost telerecordings of episodes, matched to existing visual material and soundtracks. The Wheel in Space 1 was a joy: the technique has come a long way since 2016’s The Power of the Daleks, with fluid movements of the figures and accurate representations of Troughton’s facial expressions. Best of all, though, was being able to enjoy how skilled the makers of the 1960s episodes were, creating a strikingly odd mood and atmosphere through well judged sound effects. Wheel 1 will apparently feature on a DVD next year, which I’m sure will be well worth waiting for.

The truly bizarre Stars and Garters (1963-65) got another outing this year. Apparently set in a London pub as various acts like Adam Faith plied their trade, its chiefly notable for how clueless the invited East End audience are in front of the cameras are, one guy nearly spilling a pint in terror when confronted by a live python and another wandering into shot to hand round fags when he shouldn’t. The central section vanishes in a blaze of white out, and you can only speculate that whoever originally recorded it finally snapped and assaulted the telecine machine with a hammer.

Some great curios rounded off this session. It you wanted to know how ITV and BBC were perceived in the 1970s, you need look no further than clips from the Saturday morning children’s programmes Multi Coloured Swap Shop (BBC) – posh – and Tiswas (ITV) – punk. The former had Noel Edmonds, while the latter had Sally James ‘shaving’ her chin in a tin bath. Enough said... Finally, a clip from Lulu (1970) featured the late Aretha Franklin singing a truly inspiring, rafter rattling version of ‘Spirit in the Dark’. Heady times indeed in BBC light entertainment.

Session 2: ‘Philip Morris Presents’ 17:45, NFT1
First up in the second session was a chat between Dick Fiddy and Philip Morris, the CEO of Television International Enterprises Archives (TIEA), with all the presentations discoveries TIEA had made during the last few years. Despite his crippling workload of personal investigation into some very obscure TV stations around the world, Morris was upbeat about what might turn up in the future. Intriguingly and tantalisingly, both he and Fiddy looked forward to an event at the BFI in March 2019 they declined to discuss in detail. It might, or might not, be coincidence that it’s the same month as the animated version of the Doctor Who story ‘The Macra Terror’ is released on DVD...

Morris’ first find was the third episode of the children’s series The Basil Brush Show (1968). I love Basil Brush. As soon as you know that Ivan Owen’s fox puppet was based on the comic film actor Terry-Thomas – the dandyish waistcoat, the cravat and the distinctive gap between Basil’s two front teeth are the giveaways – the banter between the chirpy Basil and the show’s presenter, here the very modish ex-Likely Lad Rodney Bewes, is even more enjoyable. Like all the well remembered children’s shows, a lot of the entertainment value comes from when the kids’ show facade fractures and you realise you’re looking at two adult performers trying not to laugh or, in Owen’s case, trying to make Bewes laugh. Owen was a master at it.

This atmosphere of cheerful irreverence was ideal for pop acts of the day, in this case the Kinks performing ‘Days’. Impressively, the sound was very live: the practice of the time was for bands to re-record their current hit then mime to it during the given show (as per Top of the Pops). Until recently, the Kinks’ section had been missing. The restoration is truly stunning, also highlighting – as with Luluthat these were the days when cutting edge rock musicians would happily fill a spot on a light entertainment show, in this case in front of an audience largely made up of well behaved cub scouts.

It has to be said that the episode of Citizen James (1962), ‘The Day Out’, starring Carry On films stalwart Sid James, hasn’t aged well. Today, it plays like Hancock’s Half Hour without that series’ still contemporary-seeming sharp wit. Citizen James had the recurring themes of TV sitcoms of the period, namely humour based around characters on the financial make, or contriving to get off with pretty girls, in this case primarily Carry On star Liz Frazer. (Rather alarmingly for a children’s programme, there was even a sketch in The Basil Brush Show in which “Mr Rodney” paired off with a bathing-suited beach dweller). Interestingly, the reverse was true in some of the surviving clips from the Harry Worth show, as the middle-aged neurotic tried to avoid “a threesome” – yes, that was exactly the phrase used – with two lubricious single ladies of a certain age.

It might not be at all funny any more, but examples like this are a valuable insight into the social history of yesteryear. The same was true of this year’s closing presentation, a 1968 edition of The Morecambe and Wise Show. It’ll be no surprise to anyone that Eric Morecambe’s anarchic deconstruction of the light entertainment show was as funny now as it was 50 years ago (and, watching him now, it’s so obvious how much Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out (1990-91) owed to Eric). In this edition, you could also see the genesis of Morecambe and Wise’s elaborate song and dance routines of the 1970s, as the duo showed off what accomplished tap dancers they were.

was surprising was seeing the national treasures doing a long sketch about the IRA, complete with the complicity of guest star, Irish singer Ronnie Carroll, which climaxed with the gang’s jolly unmasking of a British spy. Never mind that it was set in the uprising of the 1920s, in light of 50 years of turbulent and bloody history in Northern Ireland – which commenced less than a year after this show was transmitted – the sketch now looks as acceptable as someone on The X Factor doing a stand-up routine about the Manchester suicide bomber.

But that’s part of the value of Missing Believed Wiped: seeing how public tastes change, as yesterday’s fripperies and accepted attitudes become today’s no-go areas. It’s valuable and fascinating, almost as important as the recovery of vintage television itself. Long may the BFI’s Missing Believed Wiped screenings be the place to see it

Cheers to Dick Fiddy for pulling together a blinder once again.

Monday, 3 December 2018

FROM THE JAM, Open, Norwich, 1 December 2018 review

Mod revivalists The Jam may split up in 1982, but thanks to bassist Bruce Foxton (below) their musical legacy is in rude health.

Will they do ‘Eton Rifles’, Lurch?” “They’ll do ‘Eton Rifles’, Rob.”

On the way to Norwich, myself and my friend Lurch had a lively discussion. Namely, the appalling state of the Brexit negotiations and how, as apparently one of the richest countries in the world, we now have an alarming amount of people living on the street, and a National Health Service – particularly in the mental health sector – on the verge of disintegration. Paul Weller of The Jam’s lyric, “You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns”, could easily be amended to “You’ll see kidney machines replaced by Brexit and no fun, delivering a political statement as contemporary as the original was in 1980.

I bang on about it a lot, but 1) a lot of the pop music I grew up listening to in the late 1970s and early 1980s was political – punk, New Wave, 2-Tone, Billy Bragg – and 2) back then, our social lives mostly revolved around dancing to, making and/or watching live music.

40 years later it still does. Walking to the rather brilliant new-ish venue the Open up Norwich’s party capital Prince of Wales Road, where the Saturday night city beat had already started and maybe the punks and the corner boys still sprang into action, we were here for the 40th anniversary tour of The Jam’s third LP, 1978’s All Mod Cons. It was the album that finally made people sit up and take notice of the three Mod punks, confirming the early promise of the band’s formative singles ‘In the City’ and ‘All Around the World’.

Supporting are speed-rhythm-and-blues outfit Nine Below Zero, fronted by ace face Dennis Greaves who, back in the day, used to do hand stands across the stage; these days, as he fields lead guitar, he endearingly looks more like Alfred Burke from Public Eye playing Ronnie Lane. Backed up by harmonica maestro Mark Feltham, who’s worked with everyone from Joe Cocker to Oasis, Greaves and co. – it’s Greaves junior on drums now, with “young man” Ben Willis on bass – rip through a short but urgent set, with ‘Johnny Weekend’, ‘Homework’ and, of course, ‘11+11’ the highlights. Afterwards, the appealingly geezerish Greaves is good enough to sign the shirt of a young Mod in the front row.

With the headliners imminent, the front rows are starting to get packed. From what I could see looking out over the predominantly grey heads of the audience, there were roughly twenty people in the Open under 50. No wonder the female bouncer who faced us during From The Jam’s set looked vaguely alarmed throughout. She was probably estimating the amount of potential coronaries in the mosh pit.

Where do you start with The Jam? In Paul Weller, they were fronted by a Woking youngster who had a literate, polemical cynicism beyond his years, and pretty much monopolised the UK singles chart from 1978 until their split in 1982. What’s less well known is that Weller could write glorious romantic numbers like ‘Fly’, ‘It’s Too Bad’, ‘English Rose’ and ‘That’s Entertainment’ that captured the first, adolescent rush of passion in a relationship, together with the singular, prosaic nature of love in a cold English climate: “Cuddling a warm girl and smelling stale perfume… Feeding ducks in the park and wishing you were far away.”

Three of the above songs are on All Mod Cons and, tonight, From The Jam play all four to an ecstatic reception. In some ways, the band are a curious live proposition: one step away from a brilliant tribute band, with guitarist and vocalist Russell Hastings (left) resembling a slightly shorter Weller, they’re awarded legitimacy by the presence of original Jam bassist Bruce Foxton. He was there when these songs were written, and together with original drummer Rick Buckler was instrumental in their musical arrangements. You can’t get more official that that, and it’s a sign of The Jam set-up’s ongoing integrity that the title of Foxton’s ensemble acknowledges his musical heritage, while at the same time distinguishing the band from the original.

My favourite Jam album is Setting Sons (1979), but All Mod Cons is notable for the flowering maturity of Weller’s lyrical vision, by turns scathing about the vacuous nature of the entertainment industry and overnight fame (‘All Mod Cons’, ‘To Be Someone’), the grim state of the UK (‘Mr Clean’, ‘A Bomb in Wardour Street’, ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’), together with an introspective look at the nature of modern life (‘In the Crowd’, ‘The Place I Love’). It’s all played at a frantic pace that suggested the band had just worked out what their instruments were really for and weren’t going to waste a second.

Foxton and Hastings, backed up by drummer Mike Randon and keyboard player Andy Fairclough (no relation, sadly) play with the same fire as the original line up. I saw From The Jam at The Waterfront a few years ago, but they seem much more comfortable and assured tonight. From All Mod Cons, they move on to deliver classics such as ‘A Town Called Malice’, ‘News of the World’, ‘Start!’ and ‘Smithers-Jones’. God, they still sound good.

My all time favourite song is left to the encore. The instrumental cascade at the beginning of The Eton Rifles’ really does sound like a row going on down near Slough. As it’s such a special song – Weller came up with the lyric “What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?” when he was 20, defining generations of class war in Britain in one line – I try for my one-song-mosh per gig, but things are just a bit too boisterous this time. I retreat for some lone grooving.

Rifles’ with ‘Going Underground’, at the end of the evening From The Jam group together at the front of the stage for a touchingly old fashioned, appreciative bow. Foxton, a man of few words during a gig, is moved to affirm the show as “a great night.”

As we walk back to the car park, Prince of Wales Road looks like a scene from
That’s Entertainment’. If you’re a musician who writes about universal constants like day to day living, being young and broke and love and loss, your songs will always be relevant, but it’s doubly amazing how pertinent The Jam’s political numbers, principally The Eton Rifles’, Going Underground’ and ‘A Town Called Malice’ still are. I sincerely wish they weren’t.

While going to see musical heroes from your distant youth in 2018 is something of a welcome dream mixed with nostalgia, as a middle aged man I’ll continue to rage against the dying of the light to the inspiring, radical soundtrack of The Jam (among others). It’s no exaggeration to say that music this good and this timeless helps keep me alive.

Hello, hurrah...