Saturday, October 03, 2009

Nautical but nice


And there I was thinking piracy was supposed to be a bad thing for music. Not today.

For shiver me timbers if it isn't the annual Southsea Fest - a whole day of music courtesy of local and not-so-local acts at venues mere stumbling distance apart the length of Albert Road - which, by virtue of taking place in close proximity to the sea and on International Talk Like A Pirate Day, this year has a distinctly piratical theme.

So, there are three burning questions:

1. Who will lay claim to the day's bounteous though sadly metaphorical rich stuff?

2. Who will deserve to be flogged by the cat o' nine tails before being forced to walk the plank (again sadly metaphorical)?

3. Which intrepid reviewer is likely to hit the grog to the point of sickness that has nothing whatsoever to do with the sea?

Well, OK, so there are two burning questions...

We start at the Edge Of The Wedge with an assault that is airborne rather than aquatic. I've been led to believe that AEROPLANE ATTACK model themselves on My Bloody Valentine, but today at least they sound less like Kevin Shields and company and more like Helmet. Despite the inspirational presence of 2-D Cat perched on the amp, though, their heavy instrumental churnings never quite achieve take-off. The set over, Rusty Sheriff - a hip-hop DJ/producer when not behind the drumkit - is unsure whether to spew or have a large gin. It's barely 1.30pm.

FINAL ROUND ... FIGHT!'s appalling screamo - a billion times worse than song titles like 'If I'm As Good At Wrestling As I Am At Scrabble You're All Fucked' would suggest - prompts a very swift exit and it's off to the Fat Fox for THE LEVELS. Within thirty seconds of their first song, exactly the same thought has word-for-word popped into my head and that of my companion: the world doesn't really need another Reef. The Levels are cocks of the walk (or should that be swagger?), self-proclaimed "retro riffmongers" who aim at being Led Zeppelin (powerhouse drummer Sean Kenneally's John Bonham T-shirt makes an early claim to be the most redundant statement of the day) fronted by AC/DC's gravel-gargler Brian Johnson and who smell of testosterone and casual sexism. But, y'know, it's early, I'm feeling charitable and they remind me of The Datsuns marginally more than of Jet.

And I'm feeling even more charitable towards them as soon as I clap ears on their successor on the Fat Fox stage, GEORGE KING. King is a singer-songwriter who seems to believe that lyrics detailing more drugs, parties, booze and teenage bedroom fumblings than your average Skins script, if set to acoustic pluckings, make him a sensitive and edgy poet for the post-Doherty era and not a tedious whiny cretin. Give the man a girlfriend - or a good shoeing.

Their Southsea Fest stage in the Loft is local promoters Hong Kong Gardeners Club's swansong, so it's a shame we can't share their enthusiasm for VILLIERS TERRACE. That the name is taken from an Echo And The Bunnymen track should give some indication as to where the teenagers are coming from (or trying to) - the North, circa 1984 - and The Young Knives and The Futureheads are also evidently touchstones. But they're out of time and all over the shop - hopelessly so, even by the standards of music which makes no pretence of precision - and despite frontman Olic Asanovic spraying blood liberally over his white guitar for the cause, I can't help but speculate that Villiers Terrace must be a cul-de-sac.

Next comes proof that Oxford is considerably more pervasive and wide-ranging in terms of musical influence than a city of its size ought to be. To all intents and purposes, MINNAARS ARE Foals, just with inferior songs. But while it's difficult to imagine anyone wanting the likes of 'Are Lovers' when they could have 'Red Socks Pugie' and 'The French Open', there's no denying the quintet's energy, enthusiasm and self-belief. They and their de rigeur assymetrical fringes have come further than any other band we've seen so far (all the way from Leicester), and, judging by their selection for the BBC Introducing Stage at this year's Reading and Leeds Festivals, are destined to go significantly further too.

After all that frantic lurching to and fro, it's high time for HOLD FAST over the road in a rammed Little Johnny Russells, but local rag the News's Best Rock/Pop Band of 2008 aren't on long enough (translation: we're not there quick enough) for me to be able to comment on whether their Depeche Modish electro-noir really is as gripping as the moniker suggests.

A brief lull, during which a girl in a porkpie hat tries her darndest to knock my pint off a table, and then THE B OF THE BANG. Named after the the ill-fated and near-lethal sculpture erected in Manchester to mark the 2002 Commonwealth Games, they're a collective centred around one man, Wit, who also happens to have booked all the bands for this stage. Initial impressions are mixed - he's plainly a good lyricist, but musically the first song drags with the unwelcome lethargic anthemicism of Snow Patrol. There's a marked improvement, though, with the arrival of extra members, and we're suddenly transported into the everything-including-the-kitchen-sink psych-folk holler-along territory occupied by the likes of Oxford types Jonquil. All the same, as far as the bang goes, we don't get much further than the B.

Back at the Loft, it's one in one out. Thankfully there are a couple of punters on hand to assist our swift re-entry, both escorted off the premises by security when one decides to resolve a dispute with the doorman by distracting him and planting a smacker of a kiss on his cheek.

And why's it one in one out? That would be because arguably Pompey's most successful exports of the last couple of years (tour with the Manics; release through Fantastic Plastic; NME album review; festival appearances at Latitude, Greenman and Primavera) have entered the building. THE STRANGE DEATH OF LIBERAL ENGLAND owe their name to a book and their sound to The Arcade Fire. Keys, xylophone and brass are all called upon, but that additional instrumentation generally feels like a simple supplement rather than a constructive complement, and there's neither the fierce passion nor the fascinating idiosyncracy of, say, My Latest Novel to carry them through. Maybe I'm missing something, but the reason for their flirtation with the big time largely escapes me.

That said, TSDOLE are certainly more interesting than Brighton's JUMPING SHIPS, who soon have us, er, jumping ships to the One Eyed Dog. Immediately we're cursing ourselves for tardiness, as BRONTIDE are already well into their mission to command and conquer. They say "Pink Floyd for the scenesters", I say a maths class as taught by Shellac. Bare chests: two. Sinuous bass and tidy guitar patterns with a brutal thwacking follow-through: lots. Niceties: none - except between songs, when frontman Tim Hancock enthuses about the festival and their predecessors at the One Eyed Dog, Tall Ships (not just on the bill for the nautical theme, it seems). Little wonder Holy Roar - sometime label for Dananananaykroyd, Gallows and Rolo Tomassi amongst others - have taken rather a shine to them.

Next up here, on the stage curated by Meat Pie Promotions (which explains the bloke we saw earlier wandering about in a pie costume - unless it was a local with a very odd fetish) - is Malvern's answer to Bright Eyes, SAM ISAAC. He and his band have been holed up writing new songs, all of which impress, but then he already has a 2009 album (Bears) and neatly formed tracks like 'Sticker, Star And Tape' to call upon. On another day (perhaps had we seen all of Brontide's set, or had the Cider Of Doom not brought on a bout of sentimentalism), the politeness and slick professionalism of his cute emo-indie might have been offensive - and indeed the fact that someone in the crowd is quietly singing the "These problems matter" song from the Dawson's Creek parody episode of Family Guy makes me chuckle - but all the same I find myself easily won over.

Walking back past the Loft we spot our over-amorous bouncer-kissing punter being pinned to the pavement just as his taxi announces its arrival with a blue flashing light. Can't tell you much about THE RAMBLINGS (Fat Fox) or DAN SMITH (Wedgewood Rooms), as we catch barely two minutes of either - but, based on those two minutes, the former walk a bluesy walk but with the lolling gait of the Happy Mondays, and the latter is a solo loopmeister and multi-instrumentalist in need of a stage name.

In need of an identity of their own are Cambridge outfit THE TUPOLEV GHOST (Edge Of The Wedge), whose unremarkable post-hardcore wears its influences on its sleeve (or, in the case of the frontman's Black Flag T-shirt, on its chest) and rarely suggests it has either the brawn or brains to step out from the shadow of the likes of Bluetip and Sparta. But I'm prepared to cut them some slack for three reasons: firstly, they're just finding their feet again after losing two band members; secondly, the single 'Diagrams' has a corking chorus; and thirdly, their mini-album, released on Oxford label Big Scary Monsters, features a track called 'Giant Fucking Haystacks'. I'm assuming the "Fucking" is an adjective and not a verb - otherwise that would just be weird.

Now HERE's something: a rabble with a double-bassist and an extraordinarily barnetted showman called Lou Vainglorious who look like Dexys Midnight Runners lost in Shoreditch and whose secret weapon is a bizarrely effective cover of MIA's 'Paper Planes'. A cynic might venture that Southend's HOODLUMS (Wedgewood Rooms) are at least three years too late for the Thamesbeat scene, which in any case only really spawned Mystery Jets in terms of bands with any longevity. But nevertheless, the likes of 'Estuary Boys' and the glam-gone-gypsy-with-terrace-shouting single 'The Beat Bop' (released on Nude) intimates that they've definitely got a certain something about them.

I've repeatedly missed THIS TOWN NEED GUNS (Edge Of The Wedge) when they've played in their native Oxford, so gawd bless the Southsea Fest organisers for putting them on tonight. Labelmates of The Tupolev Ghost on Big Scary Monsters until recently, they're math rock flavoured with a little early emo (think Cap'n Jazz, The Promise Ring - ie back when emo meant thick-rimmed glasses, rucksacks and Smiths-loving US punks, not black clothes, self-harm and My Chemical Toilet) - which makes me just a little nervous that their song 'Wanna Come Back To My Room And Listen To Some Belle & Sebastian' might not be satirical after all. Judging by the handclapping of an excited crowd, their popularity with the locals is well established - but, while I can admire how busy and tight they are, I can't say I genuinely love it.

Strolling back through the main room en route for the exit I note that PEGGY SUE have dropped the "& The Pirates" since I saw them supporting Blood Red Shoes (well, since gaining a drummer, to be precise) - rather inappropriately, really, given the context.

Back at the Loft, it's cooler and quieter than earlier in the day - almost as if people don't realise that one of the festival's highlights are about to hit the stage. Not that IT HUGS BACK could really be described as "hitting the stage" - these four fresh-faced youngsters are far too polite and restrained for that, and it's hard to believe that they call legendary label 4AD home. But debut album Inside Your Guitar actually makes a virtue of being largely devoid of visceral impact; instead, it's the subtlety that seduces. Live is no different: 'Q' is a gorgeous wash of fuzz, and when they do work themselves up into a bit of lather (relatively speaking), on 'Don't Know' and set closer 'Now + Again' (which has my companion jigging around with the keyboard player's mum and sister - it's that time in the evening...), it feels organic and natural not like a forced teenage temper tantrum.

And so to the headliners. And So I Watch You From Afar, Band Of Skulls, Tubelord, James Yuill and Official Secrets Act are all playing elsewhere along Albert Road, but we opt to stay put for THE JOY FORMIDABLE. My first impressions were far from favourable - will time, another viewing and copious quantities of alcohol change my perspective? Not really, is the answer. They're certainly looser and not quite so buttoned up as they were supporting Howling Bells (Ritzy Bryan actually turns off the icy stare on a few occasions long enough to crack a smile or two), and coo-pop-in-a-hurricane single 'Cradle' has won me over. But I'm left unconvinced generally, not least because the rest of their material (presumably taken from the debut LP given the comically awful name A Balloon Called Moaning) is rarely up to scratch. All the same, it's pleasing to see speaker stacks shaking and feel the floor vibrating at the end of the night, as Hong Kong Gardeners Club goes out with a flourish.

The music over, there's nothing left but for two deafened inebriates to dissect the day's entertainment - all for the bargainous price of £12 - over a curry, awarding the rich stuff to It Hugs Back and the flogging and plank-walking to George King.

My guess is that Southsea Fest could become an annual fixture in my calendar as well as that of Portsmouth. I wonder whether the organisers will realise the potential in making it an all-weekend event to coincide with Love Albert Road Day, which this year takes place the following weekend?

Anyway, a sneak preview of next year's bill: Oceansize, Wavves and Fish from Marillion. Perhaps.


Callis said...

A) Do you like anything?

B) Are you from this city? Because if you know the difference between LARD and SSF you'd know one is for music lovers and the other is an excuse for chavs to drink and fight in the street.

C) TSDOLE are a fan fucking tastic band and you must be deaf and blind to think different. You probably don't understand the hype because you have no connection to the real world.

D) You dismissed my band as "appalling screamo" to go watch The Levels, lol. Just because you don't like a genre doesnt't mean you need to be a narrow minded prick about it. Maybe you should have stuck around. We don't do Oasis covers though do probably not your thing.

Lots of words, not much of a review, just a clueless opinion of a narrow-minded prick who knows fuck all about music.

OH YOU HAVE TO APPROVE THIS? Lots of people are laughing at this and your cluesless opinion of music. I've had bad reviews but one that dismisses us on genre?

Oh, and we didn't play "Scrabble..." that set so maybe you should actually watch a band before dismissing them as shit.

Clueless twat.

Email me with a response please and justify your pile of shit you've wrote on this page...


Callis (speaking on behalf of many).

Ben said...

Comment responded to by email.

Anyone else want to call me a clueless twat?

ovid said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jon said...

It’s not my place to argue the SWSL corner but I don’t think your band was dismissed on genre. “appalling screamo” just means it was appalling. You could write “appalling metal” and without dismissing metal as a genre.

I wasn’t there so can’t comment on whether you were any good or not, but I know that a) SWSL does know a lot about music, compared to most anyway – see previous posts on the site b) he takes reviewing seriously and gives every band chance. If he didn’t like you, well... that’s his opinion.

All in all your post reminded me a bit of this.

Leon Tricker said...

Callis, if we do 'secret santa' on the Pompey Music forum this year and I get you, I promise to buy you a thicker skin :-)

Come on, a review is always subjective. There's a bit of a contradiction in your comments too. On the one hand you seem to be saying Ben shouldn't dismiss your band just because he doesn't like the music. On the other band you seem to dismiss a band - The Levels - on exactly the same grounds yourself.

Have to say that I've stuck my head out the window this evening and I can't hear the howls of derision ("lots of people are laughing at this") ringing across Southsea.

As for TSDOLE, as I said on the Pompey Music Forum, I felt mightily let down by them too. Mainly because the male singer's voice didn't work for me... but, again, that's just an OPINION.

Unfortunately, Callis, your reaction to this review doesn't surprise me. I've been around Pompey bands for about 15 years now and they are the most precious, hyper-sensitive artists you'll ever meet.

I include myself in that. It's why so few of us make it off Portsea Island.

skif said...

"Anyone else want to call me a clueless twat?"

*takes exaggerated intake of breath*

Reminds me of the times Los Skeletones emailed me to say they had a razor that was "singing my name". It's not often I give out damning reviews - not as often as our Silent Words hero anyhow, I think it's reasonable to say - but it was clear from that, that a scather can hurt the feelings somewhat!

Still, I believe if you will trawl the web looking to boost your ego with happy thoughts, then the opposite outcome is always a clear risk.

callis said...

I have had bad reviews before and good ones, most have been constructive at least though, and I've never felt the need to say anything. This didn't really have any constructive thoughts what so ever for most of it.

I also never slated the levels, I just stated what you wrote. It was more aimed that you called us terrible but didn't see all of our set.

Ben said...

Come now Callis, that's a bit tame after the first comment. I've addressed all your points in that email - feel free to come back on any of them, or at least have the good grace to acknowledge I've responded at all.

Still waiting for the irate "many" you mentioned to make themselves known. Unless you're their spokesman?

Jon: Your point about what "appalling screamo" meant is spot on - and I've said as much in my reply.

Skif: Yep, that's a perfectly reasonable comment. (I seem to remember debating the issue of writing critical reviews - and our slightly divergent feelings on the subject - during Vanity Project's lifetime.) Can't imagine anyone telling you (of all people) that they had a razor "singing your name".

Leon Tricker said...

Callis, in your original post you say:

"You dismissed my band as "appalling screamo" to go watch The Levels, lol. Just because you don't like a genre doesnt't mean you need to be a narrow minded prick about it. Maybe you should have stuck around. We don't do Oasis covers though do probably not your thing."

The way that reads to me is that you are sneering at The Levels: the use of 'lol' in this context; the reference to Oasis. It now sounds like you are trying to back track.

I'll happily admit I didn't enjoy The Levels, and I was indeed the person that turned to Ben and said "the world doesn't need another Reef."

Anyway, show me the rule that says a review has to be objective and balanced? You should see some of the reviews I've had down the years... but maybe with age comes the rhino-like skin?

skif said...

Indeed, we did.

This is not to say that I disapprove of deeply critical reviews - I wrote a piece on the Lexie Mountain Boys earlier this year which dripped in disappointment (, for example.

My approach over the years has been to try and find reasons to like something than not to like it. Besides, I tend to prefer live reviews anyway, as I like to review the event, the aural and the visual, rather than just the music.

I do not however feel that other people should uniformly subscribe to my methods. Everyone loves a well-written scather when its not about them or a band they really like.

What I come down to mostly is that I'd rather not waste my time detailing a band I didn't care for, or wasn't overly enthused about, which is why some of my reviews these days only deal with some of the acts on a bill rather than all of 'em.

re: the razor. It must have quietened it's warbling, because the very same band sent me their second album to review not long after.

Which was nice of them.

I'm happy to report I believed it to be "double-shit" and didn't review it. Which was rare for me, as I felt virtually oblidged to review as much as I could from what came through the letterbox.

Ben said...

Skif: Re wasting time writing about bands you don't like - yours is the sensible policy, of course. But I still like to use the site at least in part as a personal catalogue of everything I've seen and, for better or worse, that means exhaustive reviews.

It's pretty much only live reviews you get on here too these days. Not that I wouldn't post more album write-ups if I could - it's just a question of time, and you're right that there's more to be got from writing about the whole experience of a gig than something that's just aural.

It might surprise Callis, but, like you, I do generally try to look for positives and something to like - not always successfully, granted, but I do try all the same, particularly when it comes to smaller bands for whom reviews are arguably more important.

skif said...

How quickly a thread turns from angst to two old hacks discussing their "process".

It should be clear, from my remarks, why there was never any chance of me doing it pro!