Saturday, 24 January 2015

Gigging Forever Awards 2014: Part Four

And so we return to our fictional awards ceremony - please make sure you pick up your goody bag containing Parts One, Two and Three on the way back to your table.

Actually, there's an awful lot of this “normal music” stuff to work our way through this year, so if you could maybe manage to get through this epic lot without going to powder your nose again, then next time we can finish up with some "funny music" which I know is what you're all waiting for.

Alright, rock on, Chessington...

Best album that Karin says I’m not allowed to call Swedish Country because then nobody will want to listen to it, but it’s made by Swedes and it’s sort-of-kind-of country-ish and yeah look it’s just a load of good songs really isn’t it?

The nominees:

- First Aid Kit: Stay Gold

A surprisingly unchallenging category to judge this year - if you wanted a load of gorgeous songs in a sort of folky-country-indie hipster-ish style sung in close harmony by two sisters from Stockholm, there was really only one place to go. A bit more polished and “American-sounding” than previously and with some string arrangements to melt your heart, this was the year they finally broke through their own previously set high standards and into the British consciousness. But Karin would probably like you to know that she was there first, alright?

And I would probably like you to know that I didn't cry during 'Cedar Lane' when we saw them live, but it wouldn't be true.

And the winner is: Um...

Yes, I stood this close to them. I like to think we had a little "moment".

Best combination of beats and violins on an album:

The nominees:

Clean Bandit – New Eyes

So, you think electronic music is boring? You think it’s stupid? You think it’s repetitive?” drones the ultra-annoying voiceover at the start of track 1, 'Mozart’s House'. No, I don't actually, but I do think this track which thinks it's oh-so-clever by mixing dubstep beats and rapping about Italian musical terms with a violin motif from Mozart’s String Quartet number 21 is more irritating than fibreglass underpants.

Much better are the tracks which try less hard, like the straight-ahead "pop classics with a touch of strings", 'Extraordinary' and 'Rather Be' (aka the 6 seconds of music that you know from M&S’s Christmas adverts.) But who cares what I think? They’re really going places with da kidz, innit.

- Owen Pallett: In Conflict

This is more like it. If I said this sounded like 90's alternative music crossed with 80's synth-pop, you'd probably say “that's a very lazy comparison”, and when you'd finished saying that, you’d probably also say “that sounds shit.” Add in a proper massive orchestra (which announces its intention to impress from the first second of the first track) and lyrics about not having children in case you eat them (?!), and you'd imagine a right old hodge podge.

But dammit, it works. It doesn't sound like anything else I've heard this year (or, possibly ever), and although he's not the world’s most flashy singer, his understated delivery is the perfect foil to the synth drums and brass of the dramatic material. But don't just take my word for it, put thine ears to good use and get thee to YouTube to check out 'Song for Five and Six',  'In Conflict', and 'Sky Behind the Flag'. See? Told you.

And the winner is… Owen Pallett. Not even close.

Best album by the frontperson of a now presumably defunct band (although A-ha have annoyingly announced a gig since I started writing this, but let’s ignore that for now)

The nominees:

- Morten Harket: Brother

I'm fairly sure this album was written and recorded by a giant computer into which someone has programmed the secret formula for getting onto the Radio 2 playlist. Still, 'Whispering Heart' is very good in a Keane-y/ Coldplay-y epic-y kind of way.

- Nina Persson: Animal Heart

It’s a bit like the Cardigans but less twee. Actually, that just means it's a bit like the later Cardigans albums from when most people had stopped listening to them. I only bought this because my Swedish teacher mentioned that it was coming out, and they're from Karin’s hometown, and, yeah I dunno. Can you tell that, although I like it, I don't really have much to say about this album? Shall I stop now? Alrighty then. Here's the title track.

- Jimi Goodwin: Odludek

I can't say I saw this one coming, mostly because I wasn't really paying attention. I've loved Doves since their first album, and kept up with what they were doing for a good 10 years – but it was only when this was announced that I suddenly realised they hadn't done anything for ages. Given that this album has been such a critical success and Jimi's now touring on his own to rave reviews, and that the “other two” have started a new band without the slightest hint of bitterness (oh no), I think this album is a fine contender for this category, which is just as well since I couldn't think of another one to put it in.

The music is all over the place, which is a fine thing, from the Phil-Spector produces the Manics (mit extra cool brass!) sound of ‘Terracotta Warrior’ to the none-more-Doves groovy melancholy of ‘Didsbury Girl’ and the rave’n’bass-tastic ‘Live Like a River’. And that’s just the first three tracks. Let’s not even get into the fake-gameshow theme meets frankly mental psychedelic circus of ‘Man v Dingo’… the mind boggles.

And the winner is… Jimi Goodwin. Doves who?

Best 2014 Mercury Prize-nominee that I had actually heard before it got nominated, yes really, honest, so there

- East India Youth: Total Strife Forever

This was an actually useful Amazon recommendation. (Hey, Amazon, here's a recommendation, would you like to pay some tax? LOOK AT ME SATIRING, EH?)

An interesting mix of frantic, nervous, and sometimes minimalist electronica (opener 'Glitter Recession', and the 'Total Strife Forever' suite) with some more conventional synth-y, shoegazey songs with echoey vocals like the lovely 'Dripping Down', this album didn't win the Mercury Prize, but it does win an award here today, which I'm sure will serve as reassurance to William Doyle (aka East India Youth) that he's on the right tracks.

The "Look, let’s not be too clever about this" award 

Let's be honest, sometimes you don’t want to listen to a 3-disc concept album about how Hannibal got the runs on his way across the Alps, or have your brain violated by clever-clever virtuoso playing – and it's at moments like this that you need some bloody good pop music.

The nominees:

- Foxes: Glorious

'Glorious' / 'Holding on to Heaven'

- Katy B: Little Red

'5am' / 'Crying for No Reason'

- Sia: 1,000 Forms of Fear

'Chandelier' / 'Burn the Pages'

- MØ: No Mythologies to Follow

'Maiden' / 'Red in the Grey'

But hold on, just because you fancy some of the fizzy stuff, it doesn't mean you have to settle for Wand Erection or Spitney Drears – there's some incredibly well written, well performed and excitingly produced stuff out there. From Dr. Who guest star Foxes (yes I nearly missed her, too), with her straight-ahead mix of intelligent uptempo stuff and ballads, to Katy B's more urban take on electro-pop, via MØ, who is “The Danish Robyn” (or so the "You must buy this cos we say so” card in HMV would have had me believe) – with an R&B tinge to her infectiously catchy tunes.

But this year was Sia's year – she's come a long way from being a guest vocalist on the first Zero7 album - and this was the year that she stopped giving her monster smash hits away to people like Rihanna, David Guetta and Beyonce and stepped up to take her rightful props with the stunning ‘Chandelier’ and another 9 tracks of equal hit potential. She even had Shia LeBoeuf in her video, which was fairly brave of her.

And the winner is… Sia. But give ‘em all a try.

Actually it’s just occurred to me that these are all female artists. Either men completely suck at making good pop music or I have some kind of issue...

“Nicest” Album of the year

Of course, when you do need a rest from having your ears assaulted by stuff that's so out there, it's in there again, you don't have to head to the pop music shelf - you could do worse than checking out one of these.

- Ben Watt: Hendra

- Elbow: The Take-off and Landing of Everything

- M83: You and the Night

I'm sure Elbow and their fans won't thank me for calling them 'nice' but this year's album was a bit less grandiose and epic than the last couple (the amazing 'Charge' aside), which worked in their favour, and M83's soundtrack to 'You and the Night', whilst not the barnstorming follow up to 'Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming' which I'd like them to hurry up, stop dreaming and make, did indeed calm my frazzled nerves at various times of stress this year.

But it's with Everything but the Girl’s Ben Watt that the title of "Nice" artist of the year should rest. Quiet, soothing, gentle acoustic led songs, it's a lovely album, but it chiefly wins for the very reason that it means I have an excuse to post this photo of David Gilmour playing live with Ben this year whilst my friend Tim and I stared open mouthed in the front row. I know, I’m a git.

Okay, I can see you're getting restless now, go and take a quick break and we'll be back soon with the last few clumsily worded categories...

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Gigging Forever Awards 2014: Part Three (The Moany edition)

Welcome back to Earl's Court, where you join us for part three of our annual awards ceremony, hope you've got your hard hats on, don't mind the demolition men... No, Sam Fox, we're good thanks...

(Don't tell me you missed Part One and Part Two, did you? Well, definitely don't tell me that now, because I just made sure you didn't.)

Ok, it's time to dole out some musical "Razzies" for the stuff that just really didn't hit the spot this year - I think it's only fair in the interests of balance, and let's be honest, praising stuff isn't as much fun to read or write.

The "I Don't Get It" award

The nominees:

- Gazpacho: Demon

- D'Angelo: Black Messiah

Both of these come highly recommended by people I trust. Like, seriously raving and drooling about them. Neither are in a genre that I know I hate, so neither could be said to be "not aimed at me". 'Black Messiah' was only released just before Christmas and already it is the number 2 top rated album of 2014 on RateYourMusic. 'Demon' is at number 46,  by the way, which is pretty good for an album on KScope.

I accept, therefore, that there is something pretty ruddy awesome about both these albums. It's just that apparently, whatever it is, I was innoculated against it sometime in my childhood. Those damn vaccinations...

I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

Feel free to enlighten me, please.

Most utterly, soul destroyingly pointless compilation

-Queen: Queen Forever (or "Queef Forever", as I just accidentally typed, perhaps appropriately...)

"Hey guys, I've just found this unreleased song from 'The Works', shall we put it on the remaster as a bonus track? What's that? You think we could milk a lot more money out of it? Have we got anything else to put it together with? A rubbish duet with Michael Jackson, yeah that'll do. Anything else? No? How about we remix one of Freddie's old dance tracks as a ballad? Ok, great, that'll make a good EP. What's that? Nobody would buy a 3-song EP? I suppose we'd better fill up the remainder of 2 CDs with a selection of album tracks and hits chosen by a blindfolded marmoset and randomised in a concrete mixer. Sweet. Do it."

If ever there was an argument for illegal downloading...

-Genesis: R-Kive

1. Shit name ("the kind of pun a 5-year old would come up with", says Karin. "It's not even an actual pun", says I.)
2. Shit album cover
3. Shit selection of previously unreleased material (i.e., um, nothing.)
4. Just a completely bizarre idea. Who listens to a CD which contains both "The Knife" and "I Can't Dance"? Who wants to hear both "Solsbury Hill" and "Over My Shoulder"? Oh, I know who. Genesis fans. Who already have all this stuff. Several times.

And the winner is... Genesis. For sheer brazen cheek. (See, there's a face on the front, which has got cheeks! That's a better pun than "R-Kive".)

Worst Album Art

The nominees:

Corvus Stone - II

I've never heard this album, by the way. I can't think why I'm not that inclined to check it out. I like the way they stole the woman-turns-into-crow thing from Kate Bush, but I'm not sure they really nailed the tone in quite the same way that she did.

United Progressive Fraternity - Fall in Love with the World

I think a rainbow unicorn just took a wizz in my eyes...

Schnauser - Protein for Everyone

Something about this just makes me feel very ill. Meat doesn't belong under a hat. It's a bit like the mixture of the Dolmio Puppets and a real spag bol. I accept that it must happen, but it doesn't mean I want to look at it.

(The music, by the way, is actually pretty cool...)

And the winner is... I don't know, my eyes are irrevocably damaged so I can't read what's on the card.

I've got the URL for Steve Hackett's new album ready for a quick CTRL-V into next year's awards, by the way.

The "Please, for the love of God, just make it stop" award

(Aka the one in which I lose most of my regular readership)

The nominees:

- Yes: Heaven and Earth


(I'm pretty sure nobody's ever made that joke before...)

- Mike Oldfield: Man on the Rocks

 I know we've already had this, but look, it was just so terrible it's worth pointing out again. 

- Transatlantic - Kaleidoscope

Today, for the first time ever, having pre-ordered the deluxe edition, I actually managed to listen to the whole of this album in one go - purely for the purposes of writing this. I hope you appreciate it. Here are the notes I made, which I can't even be bothered to make into real sentences, that's how much I want my time back:

liked TA but this is same old same old, stupid growly voices, WHY? Don't let Pete sing. Just not very good songs, sorry. Black as the sky is kind of cool but it is basically Devil's Got my Throat from Snow so it ought to be

Look at that, I didn't even want to waste another full stop on it.

- IQ - The Road of Bones

Today, for the several hundredth time since it came out, I did not listen to this album. In fact, I tried to listen to it once when it did come out, and it didn't go very well, so I try to avoid it whenever possible. To mangle a saying from my friend James Allen, when people make suggestions for things for him to listen to: "But I've already heard an IQ album."

- Opeth - Pale Communion

I'm sorry, Sweden. I've let you down. I tried and failed to get engaged by this. It just sounded like more of the last album, and I wasn't that excited about that one. I shall go henceforth and give myself numerous lashings with an ornäsbjörk twig.

- Just basically all Prog

Ok, I don't know what it is, either I'm "growing out of" it, or it's stuck in a horrible rut in 9/8, or I'm just in a bad mood with the world in general, but me and Prog are not getting along this year. We've had our differences in the past and made it work, having that counselling session with Big Big Train last year certainly patched things up for a while, and that Lazuli/Moon Safari gig just before Christmas was a wonderfully illicit thrill, but I think for the sake of everyone, especially the kids, me and Prog are going to have to go our separate ways.

"Pleeeease come back, we can change...."

No, I'm sorry, that's my final decision. I'm not buying any more Prog albums. I'm just going to buy music from artists who push the boundaries, make interesting and innovative albums which demand a bit of thought from the listener - artists who aren't afraid to do different things with chords, rhythms and sounds, take on different influences from the whole world of music, maybe use some interesting instrumentation, who aren't constrained by things like song length, don't follow prescribed formulas, and who take me on a journey, maybe even tell me a story. Yes, that's right, progressive music.

P.S. For the love of all that is good and holy, can we stop calling everything Prog this and Prog that? Prog Curry? Prog Cruise? Prog Avocado? Are Sparks Prog? Is Nirvana? Are the Cheeky Girls? What are the most Prog words? How about which Christmas Carols have the most Prog in them? (Two genuine forum threads I read this year.)

This cushion, is that Prog? What's the most Prog fish in my aquarium? Oops, hold on, I think I may have just had a particularly Proggy bowel movement...

Next time: Some more stuff that I actually did like. I promise.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Gigging Forever Awards 2014: Part Two

Ok, back again to resume our fictitious awards ceremony - head back to part one if you missed it, before taking your seat over there between Jarvis Cocker getting ready to disrupt someone's inappropriate performance and a coked-up record label exec.

(Yes that was probably the last time I watched the Brit Awards...)

Best album by a Swedish dark-Electronica-based band whose name starts with I

The Nominees: 

iamamiwhoami: Blue

Iamamiwhoami have become quite a fixture in my end of year lists (of which this is self-evidently not one), and I'd pencilled in this latest instalment of their monthly multimedia moody-electro-pop extravaganza for obvious winner of this hard fought category - and with the quality of music on offer here, it should have been... but who knew there was such strong competition on the way?

Actually this is the first time I've done the whole "buy each track as a single as it comes out" thing, and what it's meant is that, as an album, this feels very uneven to me now - the first track "Fountain" was lovely when it came out in January, but I've heard it so many times now that the weird breathy, whisper-y section in the middle makes me want to throw kanelbullar at Jonna Lee's head, whilst the last track "Shadowshow" I can barely remember yet. 

In the middle, though, there's the stunning "Hunting for Pearls" which has just the right balance of dark and light to keep you coming back time and again, the gorgeously upflifting "Blue Blue", and the Brazilian electro-carnival chaos that is "Ripple". What the hell "Tap Your Glass" is all about though, I have no idea. I'll just have a look at the video... no, no, none the wiser. 

I will say, this year's videos (one per song, making an ongoing narrative which someone, somewhere can probably understand) are the best so far- the weird furry monsters seem to have disappeared, to be replaced by lots of dancing about near water, celebrating nature and being chased by creepy figures dressed in block body stockings. I'm all for that. 

I Break Horses - Chiaroscuro

A new band to me late in 2013 thanks to their stunning support slot for Sigur Ros, Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck really stepped up a gear from their shoegaze-y debut this year with this bleak, dark, other synonym for dark, moody second album. From the frenetic and nervous "Faith" (Track of the year?) to the haunting futuristic film-noir soundtrack "Medicine Brush", via the just ruddy-bloody gorgeous "Denial" and "Weigh True Words", this album is very nearly perfect. I do pretend it finishes before the last track, though, sorry

Winner: I Break Horses. Ultimately, I just like things a little bleak and depressing- and damn it, Iamamiwhoami, you just got a tiny bit too nice, cheerful and major key this year, with your sunny beach videos and Latin American carnival vibes. Still love ya, though. 

The Best Mike Oldfield album of 2014

The nominees:

Mike Oldfield: Man on the Rocks

Nah. Just no, no and no again. With a side order of "NOOOOOOO!!!!" (See why here.)

Rob Reed: Sanctuary

Oh now, this is much more like it - this actually sounds like a Mike Oldfield album. In fact it sounds like all the Mike Oldfield albums put into a salad spinner. In fact I don't think this is an album at all, I think it's an elaborate puzzle - the first person to work out which Mike Oldfield track each 30 seconds of music here is based on wins a trip over Hergest Ridge on horseback. 

I want to hate this album with every fibre of my being for being so blatant... And yet, and yet. It's annoyingly well done, and there are some great tunes. (Even if they are basically by Mike Oldfield- run through a note-randomiser). 

Although, I just re watched this video in which Rob Reed smashes up a record exec's office for not taking his album seriously, so now I'm quite fine with hating it - also those A&R guys at table 12 are looking a bit miffed so let's move on...

Matt Berry: Music for Insomniacs

Yes, the guy from "Toast of London". Yes, he's made an album of eerie synth and chanting vocal music, upon which he plays everything, Oldfield-stylee, and Yes, it was largely created when he was trying and failing to sleep. Yes, I CAN hear you, Clem Fandango.   

Now, I'm not going to pretend this is hugely innovative either, but it is weird and it doesn't obviously follow a pattern that I can discern, and it also has the decency to sound like Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream at the same time as Tubular Bells, so for that reason I'm in. 

Winner: Matt Berry. YEEEESSSSSS. 

Best retro-60's/early 70's psych/Canterbury- type rock album 

The nominees:

Temples - Sun Structures

Brought here to you from the summer of '68 by means of some freaky musical teleportation device, here come Temples with their brand of fuzzy, sunny, hazy sounding psychedelic rock tunes - and oh, what tunes they are, it's physically impossible to be unhappy whilst listening to this album, and believe me I've tried. Here you go, here's 'Keep in The Dark', and 'Mesmerise' which aren't necessarily my faves, but look, they've got videos which tell you exactly what you think about the band without having to try too hard. Sweet. 

Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror

Skipping on a few years to 1970, let's imagine we're in Canterbury (no, not the Canterbury where my parents went to university which apparently didn't contain ANY of the amazing music I know to have been happening there, I mean the one where people went out and saw bands and got into the whole scene, man...) - and here come a fresh faced new prospect, Syd Arthur, with their somewhat harder, rockier, less fuzzy and "peace and love" approach to the turn of the decade. With twisting time-signatures and interesting chords, they may be onto something - something that should maybe get a name beginning with P, can't think what now. It's happening though, and it's here.

Check out 'Garden of Time' here, cause it's on YouTube and everything, which makes it rather easier to do so...

Winner: Very close, but Temples just win out here. Tune after tune after tune of top summery smashes. Mind you, I've not tried listening to it in winter, it might sound awful...

Tune in next time for more made-up and hastily decided-upon awards...

Friday, 9 January 2015

Gigging Forever Awards 2014: Part One

Gosh, hello. It's been a while, hasn't it? I only finished writing last year's end of year list about 6 weeks ago, and yet somehow here we are again, trying to whittle down all the hundreds of albums that were released last year into a list which maintains the right balance of street cred, interest to my usual target audience, and actual truth.

Except that we're not doing a list, are we? It doesn't say "The Year in Music", like it did the last couple of years, the words "Top 20" are nowhere to be seen, and everyone knows awards have nothing to do with ranking things in order of merit - just look at the Brit Awards.

So here we are, the first annual Gigging Forever Awards. Not a list. In any way. Oh no. And if you look very closely, you will find that that goddamn "P" word doesn't appear anywhere. AT ALL!

Best "Sort-of-Jazz but not really in that chin-strokey, turtleneck sweater wearing-y way" Album

The Nominees:

Snarky Puppy: We Like It Here

Epic Jazz/rock fusion workout, written and recorded in just a few days in front of a live studio audience (yes, just like Cheers), with a drummer who arrived straight off a plane and sat down and played. Mind-blowing. Get the CD/DVD edition and marvel at just how well these guys can play and find out who gets money waved in their face.

Go Go Penguin: V2.0

It's like Drum'N'Bass music, but played with real drums and bass. And piano. So, it's like Drum'N'Bass'N'Piano then, I suppose. Well, some of it anyway. Some of it is more brooding, dark, jazzy, cinematic (yes, I said cinematic, deal with it). And one of the tracks is called "Garden Dog Barbecue", which frankly, can't be argued with.

And the winner is..... Snarky Puppy. I'm unlikely to see a YouTube video which makes me spend $20 before it's even finished playing like this one did any time soon...

Best album by a band containing at least one member who kneed my girlfriend in the head whilst stagediving at a gig this year and broke her glasses which are still bloody wonky I'll have you know...

Not much competition in this category this year, to be fair...

Trojan Horse: World Turned Upside Down

Damn shame, it's a really great album, full of rollicking, noisy instrumental craziness and one of the finest albums of what Matt Stevens calls "funny music" to come out this year, but unfortunately it's dead to this household now. Them's the rules. (Also the CD comes in the most elaborate packaging ever seen on an album by a band signed to a label run by from a bloke's landing in East London, FACT.)

Best album by one of Peter Gabriel's current backing singers

The nominees:

Jennie Abrahamson: Gemini Gemini

Linnea Olsson: Breaking and Shaking

Do I have to choose? Don't make me choose... they're both crammed full of interesting songs with inventive mixes of instrumentation and sound (xylophones, cellos, electronica), they both showcase the wonderful expressive voices of their creators, they're both Swedish, which as most people now know is pretty much mandatory in order to get my attention, and they both have some interesting lyrics (Jennie is deeply concerned about war, where Linnea is at least partly more worried about ill-advisedly seducing an inappropriate work colleague in a way that makes the listener come over a bit unnecessary, or perhaps that's just me.. - maybe just as well that song isn't on Youtube so you'll have to listen to the title track instead..)

I call it a draw.

More categories coming soon/when I can be bothered to do some more typing...

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

7th June 2014: Gary Chandler and Martin Orford - Paul's House, Eastleigh

This entry should not exist. I'd basically decided to quietly slip away from doing gig reviews, after realising that I was rapidly losing my lifelong love of live events, due to either typing witty observations on my phone throughout the whole thing, or sitting trying desperately to make sure I didn't forget a single thought that occurred to me - usually by means of silent 'My Aunt Went to Paris...' type games, going round and round in my head and driving myself doolally. (You know, "My Aunt went to Paris and she brought back a blistering guitar solo, some angular riffing, a Rickenbacker twelve string fretless Moog, a glare from McChuckletrousers...")

BUT! But, but... When I started this thing up 3 years ago, and people started to read it and not want to jab their eyes out with a rusty set of compasses afterwards, people would ask me whether I thought I could really go somewhere with it (and they didn't just mean to Lydney). And I would say:

"Well, imaginary reader, the best I am hoping for is that, some day, someone will like my word-spewage enough to invite me along to something just to review it, and that they might even let me in for free."

My name IS down, and I AM coming in!

That, dear friends, is what finally happened, when Paul (he of the famous 'Twats in Hats' gig at his legendary abode) messaged me to ask if I'd come down and review the night in exchange for a free ticket. Apparently my review of the previous gig went down rather well - who'd a thunk it? Plus, the England/Italy match is on, and I'm really concerned that Phil Neville's commentary is going to put me into a coma if I don't ENGLAND HAVE JUST SCOOOOOOOOOOOORED!!! oh there was a brief moment where he sounded like he was mildly interested, but it's passed now.

Sorry, ahem, anyway, it is thus that I find myself on a train heading down to Eastleigh, where I'm very kindly collected from the station by "Prog Rock Matt" - my most frequent accidental gig buddy, tube-whilst-going-to-other-gig buddy, giving-me-lift-in-minus-17-degrees buddy, but first time actual gig buddy. Arriving at the bachelor pad par excellence, I'm pleased to note that nothing has changed - it's still a space age shag pad-cum-mini Brixton Academy that would have been the stuff of teenage Gigging Forever's dreams, and Paul actually lives here for real. Like all the time. Plus, I even get to sign the wall of fame, which is nearly as good as the ticket-fest in the bathroom.

Since the last visit, Paul's become a friend too, so we have a good old chat about how we both nearly died running the London Marathon, what other house gigs might be on the potential calendar, and Cher Lloyd (it's an ok subject to broach on a second visit), but then eventually, two chaps wander over to the instruments down in what probably used to be the living room, in front of the Damien Hirst-painting back wall, and introduce themselves.

Gary Chandler and Martin "Widge" Orford are proper musicians from the South Coast prog scene and bandmates in Jadis, whose accessible, prog-tinged rock understandably makes up a large portion of this evening's music. There's also plenty of time for stuff from Widge's other former band, IQ, and neither are any strangers to playing on other people's albums either, so we know we're in safe hands when they embark on their set of songs which also includes material from their solo albums, and carefully selected covers.

Gary sings with a powerful rock voice and plays both acoustic and electric guitars (much to the enjoyment of Paul's neighbours, I'm sure), as well as having a proper rockstar mane of hair to toss about at key moments. Widge plays keyboards, flute and cittern (look it up), and sings in a slightly softer but no less powerful fashion, eschewing the mane in favour of a leather waistcoat over checked shirt combo.

The odd couple of prog, they may be, but they captivate the room for a full two hours (apparently the longest they've ever played?), kicking off with an instrumental medley of Jadis hits, to which the audience supply the lyrics, before moving on to 'Across the Water', which has some wonderful close harmony vocals and gets the first massive round of applause of the evening - are there really only 40 people here? It's a great song, actually, and I'm prompted to think that even prog music sounds like "actual songs" when stripped down like this, well, until Widge breaks out the widdly-widdly keyboard solo, anyway, before Gary lets rip with a full electric guitar break. "How are the neighbours about all this?", he says when they're done. Er, bit late to be worrying about that now, mate.

Onto some of Martin's songs, and there's a 3-minute abridged version of 'The Last Human Gateway', which Martin sings just as well as IQ vocalist Pete Nicholls, followed by a short piano piece called 'Prelude' from his solo album 'The Old Road', at the end of which Gary looks over at us and says 'He's alright, innee?'. The night's first cover comes in the shape of a Genesis song, which is never going to get any complaint from me, or, presumably, the bloke in the 'Seconds Out' T-shirt over to my right - even though it is a "BAD GENESIS" song, from the time when neither reverse mohawk-guy nor perma-dye mullet guy were in the band, and Phil Collins had whipped the razor out. Still, 'Many Too Many' is one of my favourite G-songs, and they do a cracking rendition, so full marks from the assembled jury.

"That was a song by One Direction", says Gary - to which one of my increasingly inebriated fellow audience members up in the kitchen replies: "Oh, I thought it was Lady Gaga!", a little exchange which sums up both the increasingly relaxed atmosphere in the room and the average prog fan's idea of music newer than 1980. You have to hand it to anyone willing to come and play in such a small and intimate venue to a crowd of people raised on gigs at The Peel, where constant shouting out and trying desperately to be more amusing than the people on stage was pretty much de rigeur, but bloody hell there are a few times when I want to go and shove a slice of pizza in some people's massive gobs, and tell them to knock it off and just let the poor musicians play.

Anyway, they do a cracking job of carrying on, despite the court jesters in the gallery and the choir of enthusiastic Jadis stalkers fans on the sofa singing louder than the amplified voices of the band (and, admittedly, they're not bad at all actually, prompting Gary to ask at one point where they learned to sing like that...) - so on we go with 'More than Meets the Eye', which is preceded by a very bizarre and confusing story about a nun which ends with the immortal question "Is a cucumber a fruit?". There's some lovely flute action from Martin and "na na na" vocals from Gary, which recall the opening of some really long prog song by a posh English band whose name escapes me right now. I don't recall the original being accompanied by the sound of 10 people who can't work out how to turn off the beeping sounds on their cameras, though, so that's a nice bonus.

Up next, out comes the Cittern, a sort of large medieval guitar thing, which reminds me of my favourite 2011 London riots joke:

"I just saw some guys in Medieval outfits running towards Hampton Court. I think they were going luting..."

We get a lovely guided tour with a little unaccompanied piece which could easily be from the time when the instrument was popular, so I close my eyes and drift off into minstrel days. Also, opening them again and being reminded of the leather waistcoat and cittern combo makes the image of Widge as the long lost "Troubador" member of the Village People somewhat difficult to shift. But still, here's a nice singalong cover of Supertramp's 'Give a Little Bit' which gets everyone (oh yes, including old grumpy guts here) singing along at neighbour-bothering volumes, and then the lovely 'Speak my Name' from IQ's 'Subterranea' magnum opus, which prompts me to wonder whether I wouldn't have liked IQ even more if Martin had done all the singing in the first place.

And so it continues, with more Jadis songs, a couple more covers ('Your Own Special Way' and 'Here Comes The Flood' going down an absolute storm), and even 'Ray of Hope' from Martin's 'The Old Road' which is perhaps my favourite thing that he ever released. Any chance of a follow-up, Widge? Then, towards the end of the set, audience member impressions of Zippy and George from as yet Operation Yewtree-untarnished psychedelic kids' TV classic "Rainbow" reach fever pitch for some reason, prompting the band to roll out their apparently legendary rendition of the theme song - accompanied by singing/shouting/raucous laughter which is all the more worrying now that someone has opened the back door to prevent sweat running down the walls on this lovely summer's evening. And just as I'm feeling smug at the thought that I might be the only person here who was still a child when Rainbow came off the air, we reach the end - a lovely singalong double-whammy of Crowded House's 'Weather With You' and Floyd classic 'Comfortably Numb', with far more electric guitar solo than is customary inside a suburban semi.

A cracking evening's entertainment which is enjoyed muchly by all, as is the after party, with sausage rolls and cheese on cocktail sticks, and sandwiches - no jelly, but copious amounts of cold beer on this lovely summer's evening in Paul's garden, which like everything else at his house is completely, outrageously fabulous and OTT.

Soon, however, it's time to leave to bid our host farewell and catch the last train back to South West London, which for some reason I can't fathom on a Saturday night, is full of drunk, sweaty, overexcited students yelling and laughing much too loudly all the way back. Actually, it's just like I never left.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Album Review - Simon Godfrey: Motherland

Songs. Lovely, lovely songs. Do you like songs? Of course you do, what a silly question.

But hold on, maybe it isn't - do you insist that every song has to contain a guitar / keyboard / theremin solo for it to be any good? Do you think 'Wind and Wuthering' is the beginning of the end of Genesis because it has 'Your Own Special Way' on it? Do you listen to Radio 2 and tut at the playlist, and post things on Facebook about how 'complicated' music doesn't get the playtime you think it deserves (as if it ever did?)

Oh, ok, you don't. Good, come on in then, and settle down for something rather marvellous.

I reckon most people reading this will have a good idea of who Simon Godfrey is, if only because of me banging on about Tinyfish, the band he fronts, but he's been around on the circuit for *cough* years - as part of 80's progpop-supergroup-in-the-making Freefall, in folky-acoustic band Men Are Dead, under the ridiculously inventive electronic-rock guise of Shineback, and also as a regular at open mic night and acoustic slots, performing his catchy but deceptively complex songs around the pubs, clubs, and toilets of London.

It's this last persona that provides the best clue as to the content of 'Motherland', the first album to be released under his own name and by far the most personal thing he's put out to date - although it's certainly in the same postcode as the more straightforward moments of Tinyfish's output, like 'The June Jar', which also appears here in acoustic format, like an old familiar friend wearing a jaunty new hat.

It's one of 3 songs from Simon's other projects to be given a makeover, including opener 'Faultlines' - a powerful-but-painful highlight from last year's Shineback album, here given the stripped back treatment and a new, slightly folk-ish arrangement, and that's on top of the ambient noise-y intro which kicks off the album in expectation-buggering fashion.

Actually, let's chat about expectations - Simon's been very forthcoming about the genesis of this album right from the start, and here's an extract from the accompanying press release:

"This is a travel record, made between two countries on a laptop, some stringed instruments, a USB keyboard and one tiny microphone. This is NOT a production. It's personal, close, natural - and deliberately so."

This, and various bits about it being an acoustic album, to expect bum notes and to think of these as home demos, sets the bar of expectation pretty low - so much so that I was basically expecting an iPhone recording of him sitting on the sofa in front of 'Homes Under the Hammer', mumbling and playing the spoons. If these are also your fears (and, frankly, that does sound like the stuff of nightmares), then you'll be happy to hear that he's dramatically downplaying just how good this is. The scamp.

Yes, it's an acoustic album, but it's not sparse - there's a lovely full sound, with chiming acoustic guitars, the odd bit of percussion, some subtle keyboards, blues-y harmonica on 'Tearing Up The Room', and some wonderful multi-tracked and processed backing vocals here and there, such as the gorgeous "oooh, ooohs" which back up the gentle melody of 'The Inaccurate Man'. If this is not a production, I'd like to hear what he can do when he really goes for it. (Oh wait, I already did...)

But what about the songs, James, the songs? What are they like? Oh, ok, sorry. Well, they're like songs. With choruses, and verses, and middle eights. And lyrics - some of which are by longtime writing partner and Tinyfish spoken word maestro Rob Ramsay, but most of which are by Simon himself and deal with a theme that's extremely personal to him at the moment - moving on, loss, and leaving things behind. *sob* (Ok, you can stop feeling sorry for him now, he's buggering off to live in the US with his lovely, prog-fanatic fiancee.)

This is no 'Face Value'-esque angry and bitter divorce record, though - no, in fact the more subdued numbers like 'The Inaccurate Man', and 'Sally Won't Remember', are beautiful and uplifting in their own way, and are, oddly for me, some of my favourites after a few listens. And when the lyrics do contain a touch of the angry, such as on 'God Help Me If I'm Wrong', there's still a rollicking, toe tapping tune to go along with it.

Two tracks I'd like to single out here, though - firstly 'Dust and Wires', which is perhaps the catchiest "new" song here, and encapsulates everything there is to love about Simon's songwriting. And then the closing 'Motherland', which is a moody instrumental piece with a touch of the Matt Stevens about it - until Rob pops up to offer a brief spoken word interlude with some thoughts which neatly tie up the album's concept.

"With everything we've seen, and everything we've done placed before us one last time,
We are judged purely on what we leave behind."

If this is Simon's parting gift to the UK, as the barely audible strains of the National Anthem suggest, I put it to you that we judge him favourably. (Or 'favorably' as he'll probably have to start spelling it now.)

Rating: 4/5
Buy Immediately: Faultlines / Dust and Wires / Tearing Up The Room /The Inaccurate Man / Sally Won't Remember / Motherland
Listen to: Everything else - as one glorious whole.
Destroy: Your preconceptions before hitting 'Play'.

Motherland by Simon Godfrey is released by Bad Elephant Music today! Like, right now. Head over to the BEM Bandcamp site to listen, download, pre-order a CD, or preferably all three.