The Crookes – Live

23 May


The Hope: Monday, April 28 2014

If gold-selling albums were dished out for hard graft and persistence then Sheffield’s The Crookes would have three of them.

As it is, and touring on the back of third LP Soapbox, the Fierce Panda-signed foursome have never branched out of the smaller venues. 

And while it might not fill their wallets, it suits their style down to the ground.

While this set showed they have progressed from the floppy fringed jangly pop poets of a few years ago to a more polished and powerful outfit, their outsider tales are still of love, loss and hope.

Thankfully such romanticism doesn’t belong in stadiums, but in charm-laden rough-around-the-edges boozers.

Despite playing in front of no more than 40 people, they couldn’t be faulted for enthusiasm – especially frontman George Waite as he bounded around, head shaking increasingly frantically and sweating buckets as they rattled through their back catalogue, with particular highlights the full on stomp of We Are Magicians, the brooding clatter of newbie Before the Night Falls and The Housemartins-esque pop perfection of Backstreet Lovers.

The Crookes’ dedication to their craft deserves far more attention, but as Waite sings on Chorus of Fools: “There’s still time, let us raise our glasses and drain our cheap wine.”

Cheers to that.


Miles Jupp – Live

10 Apr


Corn Exchange: Tuesday, March 25

Miles Jupp freely admits to being old before his time, is clearly partial to the odd cardigan and is prone to speaking like he has a plum or two in his mouth.

It’s little surprise, then, that the subject matter in the first half of this set read like a list of gripes you’d expect to hear while taking afternoon tea with the Women’s Institute in Windsor.

An ill-advised encounter with teens who failed to obey ‘no ball games’ signs was recounted in brilliantly minute detail, the trials and tribulations of being a father to four under-fours saw him ramp up the faux-indignation at being at the mercy of his “infant captors”, while a seething rant about dishwasher stacking perfectly reinforced his bumbling, posh-lad persona.

So far, so Radio Four; quintessentially British, overwhelmingly pleasant, but also reassuringly clever. Jupp’s talent lies in taking trivial issues and transforming them with a terrific turn of phrase and precise language. Appropriately, the aforementioned teens he ticked off for playing basketball looked at him like he was “reading the Spanish shipping forecast.”

He also has a knack of lulling you into a false sense of security. Just when you expected an another instalment of middle-England moans and groans, he turned his attention to politics, scathingly laying into government cuts, the news agenda and the ‘big society’.

For the cricket-loving Jupp, the impressive change of tack was one hell of  googlie.

Liam Williams – Live

7 Mar


Komedia: Monday, March 3 2014

Deadpan and “mildly depressed” Yorkshireman Liam Williams doesn’t seem the type to revel in adulation, but really fella, take a bow. With the TV jam-packed with comedy panel shows featuring a parade of brash, breezy and increasingly banal “bright young things”, Williams is the perfect antidote.

This routine, “just called Liam Williams because I couldn’t think of any witty puns on my name,” earned him a best newcomer nomination at last year’s Edinburgh Festival. And it was immediately obvious why; he does dour and detached as well as Jack Dee and offbeat perception as precise as Stewart Lee – but what really set him apart was his lucid and at times lyrical language.

His poetic prose – perfectly contrasted by his knowing, flat-vowelled delivery – seamlessly flowed through the set as he mused on his “lazy life as a semi-professional comedian” and his “lower middle class upbringing”.

Crucially, despite his linguistic panache, it never strayed into clever dick territory; for every mention of Plath there was a nod to Nuts magazine, for every angst-fuelled reading from his unpublished novel (a Catcher in the Rye parody) there was a withering run through Time Out’s top 10 weirdest date locations.

“My inner monologue is a cross between Philip Larkin and Hard-Fi,” he grumbled.

If it results in stand-up as sharp and as special as this, long may it continue.

Laughtermarket Annual Special

4 Mar


Wednesday, February 19 2014: The Old Market

The announcement that a comedian is “trying out new material” usually dampens expectations. When the said act is Zoe Lyons, however, it only heightens them. While the Hove-based performer’s subject matter was far from radical (gay marriage, UKIP and the Winter Olympics all featured heavily) her cutting observations, enthusiastic manner and exquisite delivery ensured this was a typically polished performance.

Likewise, Joe Wells – who impressed at last year’s Brighton Fringe – maintained the high standard with a politically-charged set which, cleverly, was more devilishly deadpan than desperately ranting.

Speaking of the latter, guitar-wielding James McDonnell proved he was the master of cranking up the volume and on-stage hyperactivity. While he displayed some disturbingly funny lyrics, his brazen bluster is best experienced in short doses.

Holly Walsh, by comparison, could captivate a crowd for hours. Half the battle of stand-up is looking like you belong on stage. Walsh might as well pitch a tent on it. There was nothing forced or fake as she skipped through subjects as diverse as her recent marriage, the dangers of schoolgirls booking strippers to appear at Pizza Express and dog poo conspiracies. There’s nothing underhand here though; Walsh is undoubtedly headline material.

Cate le Bon – Live

4 Mar


Monday, February 17, 2014: Komedia

You can probably count on one hand the number of people born in deepest, rural Carmarthenshire who have sought fame and fortune by scarpering to Los Angeles (Llanelli, maybe). But then a cursory listen to anything Cate le Bon has ever produced suggests she is as fond of convention as extreme Welsh nationalists are of English holiday home owners.

While her third album Mug Museum – recorded in the Golden State – has an extra sheen to it, tonight reinforced the fact that it still shimmered with the idiosyncratic charm, ramshackle musical clutter and off-the wall lyrical oddities that characterised its predecessors.

‘Are you with me now?’ was a prime case in point, swooping along like a dreamy cut of 60s pop, albeit it swelled with a murky undercurrent of fuzzy guitar noodling and piercing high-pitched sighs, giving it an overwhelmingly original edge.

Throughout, le Bon displayed bundles of stage presence, without always seeming to be present. While cutting a striking figure, thanks in part to Nicky Wire-levels of eyeliner, she displayed an air of cool detachment which at times suggested she was surveying proceedings rather than initiating them. In the hands of bigger egos, this might have grated, but who can blame her for a copping a good look at the dizzying array of superbly surreal yet sophisticated gems she created?


Robin Ince and Michael Legge – Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire.

12 Feb

Legge ince

Tuesday, January  14, 2014: Upstairs at Three and Ten

 The premise was simple; this was a collective Grumpy Old Men where Ince, Legge and the audience revealed what really got their goat before everyone else decided if it was pointless anger or righteous ire.

The duo’s complaints – including banal questions from journalists and songs that only sound okay when heard from a passing car – got plenty of giggles but the big laughs came when they reacted to the audience’s gripes.

While Ince’s inner geek went into overdrive over one person’s disgust at 3D objects incorrectly being portrayed as shapes, the highlight was Legge’s baffled expressions, mirroring the look on just about everyone else in the room.

The audience interaction also revealed some silky improv skills, with Legge craftily comparing the Irish troubles to tensions between Brighton and Hove, before concluding the West Pier was burnt down by the guy who invented Instagram so people would have something to snap.

All of this rambling was bizarrely interspersed by a stunning three song set from Martin Rossiter, before, naturally, one woman’s irritation at flimsy knicker elastic was picked apart at the seams.

“That sounds like what we’re compared to in our better reviews,” said Legge. But while cheap elastic will inevitably snap, the beauty of this show was that no-one knew what was coming next.

Sweet Baboo – Live

22 Nov


Green Door Store: Tuesday, November 19

Returning to the venue where he was responsible for one of this year’s Great Escape festival highlights, Sweet Baboo (Steve Black to his pals) suggested this show might not be quite as exuberant.

“We’ve just spent £60 on meat at the World’s End pub so we’re bound to be a bit lethargic,” he said.

Admittedly this lacked some of the high jinks of the May show, but he did his tales of love, loss and giddy romance proud.

Black’s approach is to treat his experiences of adversity and affection with the same medicine – an almighty dose of fizzy pop crammed with sweet melodies that just stay on the right side of sickly.

‘The Morse Code For Love Is Beep Beep, Beep Beep, The Binary Code Is One One’ showed both his unique lyrical approach and penchant for a bob-along tune, while ‘C’mon Let’s Mosh’ channelled the nous of Neil Hannon by simultaneously harnessing wry one-liners with proper song-writing craft.

While several of the songs on his recent album ‘Ships’ are buoyed by hearty brass sections, they’re given a more straightforward workout live, not least on his crowning glory ‘If I Died…’ which juxtaposed some showpiece strutting and a heady rush of squalling guitars alongside a niggling sense of artistic doubt, “Daniel Johnston has written hundreds of great songs, and I’ve got six,” he sang.

On this evidence, he can at least change that line to twelve.

Steve Mason – Live

12 Nov
Concorde 2: October 28, 2013
One of the most glaring omissions from this year’s much-derided Mercury Music Prize shortlist was Steve Mason’s stunning 20 song-strong polemic Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time.

The former Beta Band main man has never been shy to wear his heart on his sleeve – be it personally or politically – but as tonight’s passion-fuelled set showed, his zeal and steal is stronger than ever.

Stand out track from the latest album, Fire!, introduced as “us raining down retribution from a great height on the establishment”, was a revolutionary revelation with Mason’s disarmingly calm yet cutting vocals roughed-up by menacing bass and piercing guitars amid an almost debilitating lighting display which flooded the stage in a fiery mix of oranges and reds.

“Where do we go from here?,” he chanted, “It’s clear”.

It was the first of several calls to arms, but Mason was careful to make sure this didn’t descend into a soap box set, perfectly offsetting some of his barricade-manning missives with the more mellow offerings from 2010’s Boys Outside, such as the expansive and lush All Come Down which was a poignant sea of calm amid the agit-pop storm.

As for the Mercury Prize, Mason doesn’t seem to give a monkey’s. He’s clearly got far bigger fish to fry.

The Lovely Eggs – Live

4 Oct


West Hill Hall: Saturday, September 28.

“It’s good to be back playing a bring-your-own-booze gig in a glorified scout hut,” shouted The Lovely Eggs singer and guitarist Holly Ross, adding: “This is our kinda place!”

She wasn’t wrong. If there’s one band ill-suited to trendy venues, it’s them.

The husband and wife duo have a bigger DIY ethos than B&Q, so it was no surprise their down-to-earth demeanour, glorious guitar-pop rackets and comic-cum-observational lyrics found a loving home in a sold-out community hall packed with people clutching carrier bags straining with bottles of booze.

The Lancaster duo didn’t wait long to make a lasting and likeable impression – with the opening track jokingly re-arranged to include lines about David’s drum kit difficulties, before the manic minute-long shoutfest of ‘People are Twats’ suitably set the standard for the next hour of contagious clatter and charming chatter.

Swigging back another cider, Ross insisted clapping was essential, no matter how short some of their songs were. But this audience really didn’t need to be told, as it repeatedly showed its affection for a band which has stayed true to its ideals without becoming miserable martyrs to a cause.

The Lovely Eggs, you really can’t beat ’em.

Comedy review: Ardal O’Hanlon – Live

17 Sep


Brighton Theatre Royal: Sunday, September 15, 2013.

“Why do I still do this?” asked Father Ted and My Hero star Ardal O’Hanlon, seemingly baffled why, when pushing the age of 50, he still feels the need to waffle, wonder out loud and confess his “Irish Catholic” sins to a theatre full of people.

It clearly isn’t because he’s got some grand statement to make – this set was a gentle amble through his past and his surreal take on the present – or an overwhelming desire for fame (“I was doing this long before I played a priest”), but seemingly because it’s the only outlet he’s got for his deft and daft musings.

And thank Christ he’s still at.

His whimsical reminiscence about growing up in small town Ireland was sublime, revealing the locals thought anyone who left the parish was “either homosexual or vegetarian”, while his sideways reflections on leadership made a salient political point in a suitably silly manner concluding that Obama portrayed hope, Putin strength and Cameron and Clegg….shampoo and conditioner.

“I haven’t really got a big finish,” O’Hanlon admitted after an hour of convivial rambling, before adding the killer line, “this isn’t fecking Cats.”

He was right, this show was more akin to Father Ted’s musical masterpiece ‘My Lovely Horse’. And that’s altogether more impressive.


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