24/02/2010: The NME Shockwaves Awards Show, Brixton Academy
I went along because the wonderful Bethling won tickets, and hey, how often do you get to go to an awards show? Flicking through a recent copy of the NME on the train it was clear I didn't know any of the bands the cool kids are into these days.
It's a bit hazy now because the bands I didn't know I surely didn't remember, uninspiring as they were. Kasabian made a good bit of noise, but I've never been a fan of Oasis nor their imitators, so their success bemused me somewhat. A sober, quirky Jarvis Cocker made for the perfect host, his terse Sheffield accent adding to the surreality of playing Catch Phrase with indie band names, although I think he barely hid his disgust at the ragingly drunk Damon Albarn. Also thoroughly sloshed was Lily Allen, who shouldn't have been permitted to sing, and just to add to the general prurience of the thing, poor old Shane MacGowan was wheeled out to ramble about a shit charity single he'd been roped into, only for 'helpful' collaborators to escort him away from the mic so the video for their bash at a Haiti relief cover could be shown. I don't remember what it was a cover of, but my god it was bad: no soul, not an interesting moment in three minutes.
Thank god for The Specials. Still going strong, still railing about everything, including smoke-less cigarettes, still dancing like men thirty years younger. They played two tracks and it made the whole event more than worth it. Hole also gave a good performance of a couple of songs, although Courtney's guitar could perhaps have done with some additional tuning...
We had to leave before Paul Weller, which was a shame, but by that stage everyone but Jarv was conkered and with each passing interview featuring Alexa Chung I wanted to eat my own fists. So basically, NME and NME people are still berks, just like when I used to read it. The bands that were good are still good, the new bands are boring and the now respectably Brit-Awarded Florence & The Machine didn't get a look-in. Ah, but it was predominantly ace because of Jarvis and because I was able to satisfy my curiosity about going to an awards show. Though I probably won't be repeating the experience unless I or a friend win tickets again; it's not like we all got together and sang songs by The Bombay Bicycle Club on the last tube...*
12/03/2010: Martin Carthy, Norma Waterson and Chris Parkinson, St. Luke's Church, Chesterton
Normally, the Cambridge Folk Club can be relied on as a place where the support bands are of the highest quality. I was glad that I arrived so late in this instance however, because my god was the support awful. The worst kind of Rod Stewart-y self-penned 'real life comedy folk'...bleugh. However, when Martin, Norma and Chris came on it was pure magic. They know just how much information to give about a song to whet your appetite without it turning into a lecture and their own anecdotes about the songs they'd learnt were fascinating. Martin's rendition of Three Jolly Welshmen brought a childhood nursery rhyme my Dad had sung to me flooding back - I'd always thought my Dad had been making up tunes to the written words, but it was a version of a song that's years and years old.
At one stage, Martin experienced a technical problem of some kind that he had to dash out to fix. Norma didn't let silence rest upon the venue long and proved that whilst her legs are shaky these days her voice is still a wonder. Pouring out The Welcome Sailor into a stunned church full of people it brought home to me how unique she is even in today's folk scene. Her older, deeper voice sent shivers down my spine without the need for any musical accompaniment.
In short, I felt extremely privileged to attend the gig and a church was an entirely appropriate setting for us to kneel at the altar of some of English folk music's greatest living heroes. And I'm saying that as your common or garden atheist...
23/03/2010: Paloma Faith and La Shark, Cambridge Corn Exchange
I ended up at this gig by accident. I thought I'd told my friend who's offered me the ticket that I'd give her a listen and get back to him. However, he must have misunderstood because whilst I kept forgetting to get back to him that I wasn't that keen, he thought I was definitely coming and therefore wasn't trying to flog the ticket to anyone else. Oh. So, as it was so cheap for the Corn Exchange I went along, thinking New York was a rousing enough tune, but otherwise unsure what to expect.
What we got was an excellent performer giving an exuberant, confident performance despite a voice on the brink of being lost. Whilst you'd think any threat to Paloma's voice would be a huge detraction from her gigs, she made a game out of it, passing notes for her (superb) backing band to read and occasionally cooing "Oooh, I'd love to talk to you, you all seem so nice!" Her Billie Holiday and Beatles covers were faithful yet stamped with her own style and her costume change was speedy and professional. Oddly enough I have no complaints. Even the support band were good! La Shark were a vaguely ridiculous two-tone-ska-meets-Human-League-disco band full of slightly snotty self-confidence and rather good with it. Their songs were hugely fun, their set short and sweet, and their performance accomplished. A new band that I like! More of this, please...
24/03/2010: Half Man Half Biscuit, Cambridge Junction 1
After all the excitement of actually liking Paloma Faith, I still went to this gig thinking it would be THE BEST THING EVER. idst. Even arriving grumpy, wet, with sore legs from walking brusquely so as not to miss the start (no support band...), I still thought this gig would be even better than The Pogues.
Maybe it was too much expectation. There are few times when I've attended The Junction and thought the crowd were appreciative music fans out for a good night and to hear one of their favourite bands play a great set. In fact I think the only time I thought that was when I saw Jonathan Richman there, and even then people continued to smoke despite his request that they stop on behalf of his recently operated on throat. At first it was kind of funny: the crowd looks exactly how I thought a HMHB crowd would. Lots of middle aged men with not much hair. And because middle aged Pogues fans were so much fun in Brixton I thought this would be a fun, genuinely appreciative crowd who weren't averse to a bit of a push and shove and to calling that dancing, but not blaming short girls for defending themselves with sharp kicks. Hm.
Restless Legs was a great starter, and it was reassuring to see them saunter on, plug the guitars in and just get on with it. Nigel Blackwell was on good form, muttering in surly Scouse about the local museums and their lack of cake. The crowd was already shouting requests. With a hand-written (of course) setlist, the band stubbornly stuck to the songs they'd already decided to play. "CHATTERIS! What is Chatteris!!" hollered the crowd. "Yep, that's one of ours," quipped Nigel, launching into something completely different.
With 11 albums and at least 3 EPs to pick the setlist from, not even two hours was going to contain enough songs for everyone to be happy. I'd expected this; I'd expected the 6 or 7 songs that I didn't recognise because I don't own Editor's Recommendation, MacIntyre, Treadmore and Davitt, This Leaden Pall or Some Call It Godcore. But everyone else was determined to hear their favourites, and the shouts for requests kept going throughout the gig, leaving a pervading air of dissatisfaction.** The affectionate surliness of the band became simple surliness, Neil Crossley turning his back to the audience for much of the time, even though he gave a cheery wave when the band finally left the stage.
Neil's bass drove cleanly through all the songs that night (apart from one he played guitar on. Obviously). The excellent Uffington Wassail was a highlight, as was the rambling does-he-or-doesn't-he-remember-the-words Twenty Four Hour Garage People. Yet, as profpirate pointed out, they don't always translate well live. Songs that I was unfamiliar with didn't shine because I couldn't always hear Nigel's fantastic lyrics, and some songs that I was familiar with could have easily been replaced with more singing songs (not 'song-based'...I mean in opposition to the many monologues that we got), songs such as When The Evening Sun Goes Down would have sounded a treat live, where National Shite Day did drag on a bit...
It's always a bit disappointing when a band admits that they've forgotten how to play one of your favourite songs - as after a taste of The Ballad Of Climie Fisher, a brief concession to the thick-flying requests. The youthful venue staff looked bored. The crowd was having a bit of fun, but between me and the only fun-lovers was a technophile filming every song on his camera rather than paying any attention to the real people on stage in front of him. Rather than feeling welcomed by an older crowd, I felt like a two-headed imposter. I don't know how better to describe the sense of deflation that I felt as I left the venue, as some fat prick pushed past me, shouting drunkenly at his friend "It's ok, watch me impolitely shove these people out of my way!".
Half Man Half Biscuit are surly, but always seemed rather well-mannered, cynics with a glint in their eyes, revelling in the underbelly of daytime TV culture. I was disappointed that the sense of simple, adventurous inquisitiveness ("The inside of a Halex Three-Star table-tennis ball smells much like you’d expect it to", "There are questions in corners of my mind that lurk, like how do the road gritters get to work?") seemed to be totally lacking from their fans. That can make or break a gig for me, as anyone who's read me rant about teenagers at the Junction before might know, and I'm fucking miffed that an aggessively demanding crowd spoilt a gig that I had been looking forward to so much.
*See previous journal entry, discussion of The Pogues.
** I admit I did tentatively call for Blood On The Quad, because I thought it would be appropriate for Cambridge, but I had not real expectation to be a)heard or b)listened to.