Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sweeping the nation

A quick round-up of some recent small-scale gigging action around the country, recorded as much for posterity so I can track my movements as much as anything else...


Locating The Rainbow makes me feel like an intrepid voyager into uncharted waters - walk as you must into Digbeth past the newly razed coach station, past Sanctuary and the Barfly, past the Irish Centre, past the Custard Factory - but when we arrive it's not just with a sense of relief: this is obviously a very welcome addition to the list of music venues in the heart of the second city. A spacious old Victorian pub that's been refitted with more of a yoof edge, it has a permanent stage set up in a roofed courtyard at the back.

It's one of The Rainbow's regular 444 Club gigs (a commendably simple philosophy: four bands for £4 until 4am), and we've been drawn here tonight by the presence of StRANGEtIME, first on the bill. It's been some time since I last saw the trio (over two years, to be precise), during which time they've changed bassists (Chris Maher's the new man), released a single which got airplay on Kerrang! Unsigned, and had a Mercury-nominated act claim enthusiastically that lead singer Kate Finch "sounds like an angry dog" (Fyfe Dangerfield of Guillemots).

Of the material aired tonight that's new to these ears, aforementioned single 'Personality Disorder' and the title track of their first EP 'Oneitis' impress the most, but 'Ex-Boyfriend' still packs the biggest punch, its ferocity and directness leaving a bloodied nose, a contrast to some slightly soggy moments or over-complicated drumming elsewhere. That 'Dressing Up' appears to have been dropped from the set is inevitably a source of disappointment, personally speaking, but everyone has to move on at some point.

As do we - just as the smell of sizzling burgers begins to get me salivating, we head off in search of a karaoke party at a Chinese restaurant in the Jewelry Quarter. The name of the restaurant? Wok 'N' Roll. I believe I may at some point have provided wine-fuelled backing vocals for Cyndi Lauper's 'Girls Just Wanna Have Fun', but hopefully it's all just a bad dream...

(You can read my West Midlands gig-going companion Kenny's take on the night here.)


Buffalo may be a decent enough (if pricey) watering hole, but as a venue its upstairs room could hardly be worse - long and narrow, with the stage at one end and around a corner which means that half of the audience funnelled in to watch has got a partial view, at best, of the performers. So it makes sense that the owners might decide to branch out and open a new establishment.

10 Feet Tall, on Church Street, is an ambitious attempt to bring together a street-level delicatessen and cafe-bar, a mezzanine restaurant "individually styled with high ceilings and an array of period lamps and chandeliers to create a truly modern twist on a gentleman's library" and a gig venue all under one roof. Time will tell if it works out, but the upstairs room has already played host to Son Of Dave and Johnny Foreigner, amongst others.

Tonight, though, it's the first Mish Mash, an eclectic night of music set to become a regular feature on Thursdays. A great meal from Canteen under our belts (more about that some other time), we arrive to discover we've just missed a band playing what's described to us as "Arabian funk". The Gentle Good - aka Gareth Bonello, who played last year's Green Man and whose sweet finger-picked folk has charmed the ear of 'Whispering' Bob Harris amongst others - was also on the bill, but he too has been and gone.

In the event, then, our first live action of the evening comes courtesy of Mish Mash organisers Lone Pine. I've seen them once before, almost two years ago to the day, and I'm automatically predisposed to be unkind, simply because of the way that, on that occasion, their idle, inconsiderate chatter intruded upon the quieter moments of the headline act My Latest Novel's set. In the wake of that support slot, they played three dates with Radar Bros, and that certainly figures - authenticity be damned, they desperately want to be My Morning Jacket. But they're kept grounded by leaden-footed songs, and, lacking the experimental ambitions of the likes of Wilco, they're unable to alchemise what is essentially solid and staid Americana into something much more interesting.

The evening's nominal headliner is Orcop aka Gwydion ap Hywel (yes, he may well be a Welsh native, fact fans). A purveyor of ambient laptronica, Orcop was recently asked by Lily Green to monkey around with her sweetest song to date, 'Mr Ladybird' - the result sees the dreamy quality of the original retained but set to a sharp and ever-so-slightly sinister beat that sounds like balloons being pricked. While his songs aren't totally obtuse, however, they are a radical departure from what's gone before - that's the point, of course, but, with many of the taps behind the bar having been drunk dry by a thirsty crowd determined to mark the beginning of the long Easter weekend in style, the fractured beats aren't exactly conducive to dancing, not matter how hard a handful of spectacularly arrhythmic punters try.


Saturday night, and all’s quiet. Seriously, Chichester town centre is deserted. It’s like we’re in the middle of the opening scene from ’28 Days Later’, only it's the low-budget version set in a sleepy and frightfully middle-class market town.

Thankfully, though, there are signs of life if you look hard enough - in La Havana, to be precise, an underground bunker of a bar / club which is tonight playing host to Autons. (That's the Portsmouth electro-rockers recently expanded to a foursome by the addition of a bassist, not the Australian band with a song called 'Pooing A Brick' or the Texan metallers who released Big Girls Look Better In Sweater Weather, in case you were wondering.)

The gig is in effect something of a warm-up for an imminent mini-tour, organised to promote their second single 'Election Singer'. In truth, twitchy debut release 'Snakes', which benefited from airplay courtesy of both Steve Lamacq and Rob da Bank, is much stronger than a follow-up that overdoses on stodgy, reheated pub punk guitar. Set highlights include 'Maybe' (though the new concluding mantra perhaps lays on the environmental message a little too thick), the glam-stomping reworking of the 'Dr Who' theme tune 'Recondition', and 'Snakes' B-side 'Ice Major', propelled by a fast and furious fist-in-the-air beat.

I'd probably recall more if I hadn't cracked my head off the curved low ceiling so many times...

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