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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.


The Wytches – Live

13 Aug


Green Door Store: Thursday, August 8, 2013.

For 40 minutes tonight The Wytches frontman Kristian Bell screamed, screeched and occasionally sang with scant regard for the long-term well-being of his vocal cords. He’s either a reckless hardnut or routinely fills up his rider with packets of Lockets and vats of honey to make amends. Whichever, it was a thrilling spectacle.

With his bandmates providing an accompanying cacophony of dark, psychedelic slabs of rhythm to boot, it’s no shock that the Brighton-based, Peterborough-raised three-piece are enjoying a well-earned dose of media hype. As soon as the distorted bass of the opening instrumental morphed into an almighty wall of noise – with the three of them seemingly in worlds of their own, yet moving in perfect unison – it was blindingly obvious they weren’t as much up for this as already halfway there.

For the remainder of the set, those crammed into the venue were subjected to a full frontal sonic attack. At times it was like the rabid offspring of Future of the Left letting loose in the midst of a particularly bad acid trip, at others their brooding hooks and masterful melodies – seemingly more prominent than at their much talked about Great Escape outings earlier in the year – scythed through your skull with unnerving precision.

The Wytches really do concoct a potent brew. It’s surely only a matter of time before an even wider audience comes under their spell.

Brighton Fringe Review – Joe Wells: Night of the Living Tories

3 Jun


Caroline of Brunswick: Friday, March 24, 2013

He doesn’t mind being called pudgy and he’ll tolerate being classed as well- spoken; just don’t tell him he looks like a Tory boy.

It’s fair to say Joe Well’s visceral hatred of the Conservative Party is as strong as his aversion to dropping his aitches or hitting the cross trainer.

In the debut outing for his Night of the Living the Tories show, Well’s showed why he is one the finest young political comics doing the rounds; he’s bold, cutting and, at times, ruthless.

At his peak he was unstoppable, especially when it came to race. He turned Bernard Manning jokes on their head – cleverly swapping the butt of them from black people to Conservatives – while later brilliantly belittling the ‘The ain’t no black in the Union Jack’ chant so favoured by the BNP and EDL.

The set wasn’t without fault though, not least because Wells had a tendency to resort to simplistic attacks on individuals – Michael Gove and Nick Clegg in particular – that have often been heard before.

And while the finale – a laugh-out-loud take on the voice adopted by so many performance poets – was bang on the money, it felt more like an add-on than a finely crafted conclusion to an hours’ political rabble rousing.

Well’s is well worth keeping an eye on, even if he isn’t quite the full-blown comedy revolutionary just yet.



Abi Wade – Live

25 Jan


Prince Albert: Wednesday, January 23 2013

While most acts will strive for one unique selling point, Abi Wade has got a bundle of them. Not only is her main instrument of choice the cello, but it’s complimented by a pair of peddles for percussion and the novel beat-producing device that is ‘whacking-the-cello-with-a-stick’.

And she does it all. At the same time. Without a loop pedal in sight.

That alone is an impressive enough musical feat, but throw into the mix a collection of leftfield, idiosyncratic songs which somehow create a sum greater than their constituent parts, and we’re on to a winner.

Take Heavy Heart for example – the sparse beats and restrained cello not only nailed the xx’s knack of giving a song plenty of room to breathe – but also allowed Wade’s distinctive and impressively direct vocals to dominate. Somehow, improvisational charm was transformed into a cleverly crafted arrangement.

Similarly, A Bit Like Love continued the less-is-more theme while also proving she can master the traditional approach as she ditched the cello and gizmos for a beguiling a ballad on the piano – again characterised by a voice that can be both stark and subtle.

Wade is a must-see live act but, because she sits down to perform,that is easier said than done. If you’re more than three rows back in a venue like this, you’ll barely glimpse a thing. Someone needs to build her a plinth – performances like this clearly prove she deserves one.

Stand Up For The Hall – Comedy Review

25 Jan


Komedia: Saturday, January 12 2013

Kudos to co-headliners Alastair Barrie and Nick Page – both seasoned professionals on the national stand-up circuit – for giving up their time for free to help Prestonville residents raise £200,000 to buy Exeter Street hall for community use.

Barrie smartly honed in on Brighton for much of his set – but thankfully avoided the well-trodden clichés of it being the “gay capital” or “stag-do central” so popular with many visiting comedians.

Instead, his observation that the city only had such a large number of white people with dreadlocks to overcome the guilt “for not having many black people living here” cleverly pricked the conscience.

Page, for his part, revelled in the fact that he had royally messed up his life, telling us he went to the top three schools in the country and hosted day-time drivel Escape to the Country, before a compulsion for infidelity and dodgy dealings left him with three divorces and a £250,000 fraud conviction.

He suggested it might be time to change his ways, though, after realising he’d been a best man nine times, yet never a godfather. “That’s the making of a dick,” he admitted, which might be true, but at least he’s a very funny one.

Despite two stonking sets, it will be Norway-born and Brighton-based Ingrid Dahle’s act that lives longest in the memory – mainly for a physical routine where she  turned a pair of Primark jogging bottoms into a wardrobe full of outfits.

A combination of quirkiness and deft timing means she should be destined for stardom.

Bridget Christie – Comedy Review

12 Oct

Brighton Comedy Festival: Komedia: Tuesday, October 9

“Misogyny and shiny leggings. Neither do women any favours.” It’s a decent line. And one of very few Bridget Christie delivered.

Everything about her show, War Donkey, from the acknowledgement she picked the name and was then unable to write much material about war, or donkeys, to the show’s ramshackle rhythm and rambling delivery was, to use the buzzword, an omnishambles.

The show was centred around four incidents that occurred on the same day and, for her, put women’s issues into sharp focus. One was a terribly misogynistic review that claimed she only got where she was because of who she slept with; Stewart Lee is her husband.

From these incidents stemmed impassioned rants about how government cuts disproportionately targeted women and the “normalisation” of pornography.

They were worthy topics, but there were barely any laughs to accompany the lectures, save for a clever quip about women taking the same “decluttering” approach to their genitalia as they do to interior design.

With the exception of a few people at the front, this performance got very few giggles or positive responses from the audience. And her insistence on banging on the microphone to mockingly check it was working when a joke didn’t get a reaction wasn’t the best way to overcome a shoddy routine. Writing better material would have helped, instead.

As someone who once earned a crust working for the Daily Mail, she of all people will know you can’t be nice to all of the people all of the time. And that’s putting it politely.

Savages and Palma Violets – Live

13 Aug

The Haunt, Brighton: Tuesday, August 12, 2012

Savages and Palma Violets have been hyped to the hilt with expectations stoked by both bands refusal to spill their songs all over the internet.

The chatter has intensified, even though the former are yet to sign a deal, while rumour has it the latter were snapped up by Rough Trade on the back of one track.

It’d be good to know which song it was that got the fresh-faced four-piece noticed: maybe it was the Clash-addled shout-along, or the swampy, Doors number where singer Sam Fryer gives Jim Morrison a run for his money in the frenzied cool stakes. But it was probably either Best Friends or Fourteen two catchy tracks that appear to have fallen off the back of the Libertines’ lorry.

The constant, underlying Farfisa organ is just about the only original touch, but at least they have the decency to ape more than one band. And they do it ridiculously well. They’ll be huge.

Female four piece Savages are similarly proud to wear their influences on their sleeves, although they fashion their gothic post-punk into a more consistent set.

Theirs is a sound proudly rooted in 1980 with its ghostly guitar, booming bass drum and frequently single note vocals, which are occasionally punctuated by severe ‘ohs’ across the verses.

Diminutive singer Jehnny Beth, armed with little more than an icy glare, is a captivating presence, though, jerking hypnotically through the livelier moments.

These can’t really be called choruses, however, they are merely heavier extensions of whatever went before.

It’s all ruthlessly executed and supremely accomplished but, on a musical level, it’s far too self conscious to really take off. They’ve nailed the sound they wanted, but it’s at the expense of any warmth or, heaven forbid, the occasional shade of light.

Inspiral Carpets – Live

31 Jul

Concorde 2, Brighton: Friday, July 27

Singer Stephen Holt rejoined the Inspiral Carpets last year after two decades with Tom Hingley at helm. Holt missed their peak period, bowl-cut barnets, paydays and Top 40 successes, but at Concorde 2, as he stood on the monitors and orchestrated the crowd, it was like he was back where he belonged.

Switching frontmen is rarely successful, but Holt’s return was no doubt helped by the fact that the Inspirals have always been seen as organ maestro Clint Boon’s band, a status signified by the shouts of ‘Boon Army’ that rang out in between every song.

The terrace-style chanting made it clear the crowd was up for it and, despite the stifling heart, so were Boon and co.

From the shout-along Joe and the stop-start swagger of She Comes In The Fall to the indie disco classic This Is How It Feels, this didn’t sound like a band going through the motions to top-up their pensions.

There was a palpable sense of urgency and commitment that, to be frank, was totally unexpected; the drumming was brash and blistering, the low-slung bass was so deep it sounded like it was being played under the floor, while Boon’s jabbing organ lines skimmed along like perfectly-aimed pot shots at the tight rhythm section below.

The doubling-up of Holt’s and Boon’s vocals also added an extra shot of vim, helping to produce a sound more akin to their original garage-band roots than the indie makeweights and Madchester halfwits they are so frequently filed alongside.

“Half the world is watching the Olympic opening ceremony and you’ve been watching the Inspiral Carpets,” said Boon at one point. 

As the majestic Saturn 5, with the chorus line “You really were the greatest sight” was shouted back by 300 sweat-drenched souls, those glued to their goggleboxes didn’t know what they were missing. The Inspirals aren’t past-it also rans. On this form, they should still be contenders.

Kimya Dawson – Live

12 Jul

The Haunt, Brighton: Tuesday, July10 2012.

Kimya Dawson was missing her kid and battling the frog in her throat caused by a cyst on a vocal cord. But she still loved everyone.

Seriously, nobody could perform as many cloying songs about how we should celebrate our differences, share and share alike and treat everyone as equals if she didn’t have a heart has big as her impressive afro.

It’s impossible to argue with the sentiment, but it was soul-destroying nonetheless. In fact, as she perched centre stage with her acoustic guitar and preached to the largely converted, there were times when it felt like you were swimming against a tide of hippy drivel.

It was bloody infuriating, because, away from the happy-clappy sermons, she was frequently spectacular.

When she was singing about her child, a two-timing ex, or comical ways of overcoming a fear of flying, it was easy to enjoy the songs for what they were; a collection of clever, tender and occasionally brilliantly skewif numbers that married simple, yet adorable, tunes with smart and at times deeply heartfelt lyrics.

Nowhere was this more evident than towards the end of the set when she revealed a friend had died earlier that day. Understandably moved, she went on to perform a couple of songs about people she’d lost in the past that were simply stunning. One, about a friend who died of cancer, somehow managed to convey the myriad of emotions caused by grief in a perfect five-minute pop song.

As a spectacle, it was intense, as a feat of songwriting, it was pure class.

However much it grated, tolerating the abundance of sickly nonsense was just about worthwhile after all.

Brighton Fringe Review: Phil Kay

25 May

Quadrant:  Saturday, May 19 2012

There’s no middle ground with the whirlwind Scottish comedian Phil Kay.  His shows are either manic, ridiculously absurd and hilarious, or so shambolic and rambling that it’s nigh on impossible to follow his train of though, let alone pick out a joke.

Thankfully, in his second of three Fringe shows, we got the former. His set featured some delightfully obscure and improvised ramblings, including a fast-paced rant about the 24-hour chemist opposite the venue (“You can have whatever you like, as long as they can fit it through the little hatch,” he said. “There are trained chemists from Cambridge University over there slicing sandwiches into bite-size bits so they’ll fit through”).

The cash loan premises over the road got the same treatment (“They are the kind of loans I like best,” he said. “Give me cash over grapefruit every day”).

His bohemian and anarchic mindset means that audiences have to go with him and be prepared to stumble down some dead ends to be fully rewarded when he hits comedy gold.

At times this can be awkward to watch as he seemingly racks his brain for some vague semblance of a punchline. If he can’t find one, he just stops and careers off in another direction.

Although at times it can be frustrating, it’s genuinely refreshing to see a comedian who hasn’t polished a routine with the aim of getting (back) on TV, but one who likes the thrill of winging it and living on the edge of his wits. Just keep your fingers crossed you catch him on a good day

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