Thursday, December 17, 2015

Lil Bub + Meow The Jewels. Are Cats the future of music?

On the 14th December of this year "Science & Magic" debuted at #1 on Bilboard's Top New Alternative New Artists Chart, #2 on the Top New Artist and Electronic Music Charts, and at #121 on the main Top 200 Albums Chart. As far as I know this marks the first ever time that a cat has had a chart album. History has been made. Of course earlier this year Lil Bub also guested on the Run the Jewels "Meow the Jewels" remix album. She has not produced this record herself, but her deep distorted meows are all over the record. Andrew W.K. explains that The album is a "genuine musical experience, a bona fide and musically gratifying concept album, which entirely emerged from the soul and spirit of Lil BUB herself". Lil Bub is lucky enough to have musicians as her owner and friends who were willing to make the record for her. On the flip-side 'Meow The Jewels' was not so much a labour of love as a commitment that had to be fulfilled. As part of the fund-raising for their second album together Hip Hop legends Killer Mike and EL-P started a handful of fund-raisers. such as playing house parties and the promise of quitting the music industry for good if offered a million dollars. They would write one song each year for the benefactor. The most popular by far was obviously the Meow the Jewels LP. They gained far more money  than they needed to make it and ended up collaborating with Massive Attack's 2d, Zola Jesus, Prince Paul and Dan the Automata. EL-P has said “I enjoy the painful irony that this is probably the only time I’ll get to be on an album with this amount of people I respect, and I forced them to make the stupidest fucking shit possible*.”. The fact that the finished product is still one of the best hip hop albums of the year (Both Lil Bub and RTJ are in my top 50), only goes to show how great the original album is. The producers  have done a great job of re-imagining  the album and the end result is oddly calming, but also very angrily political.
It has been over ten years now since Damon Albarn left Blur to form his own new group Gorillaz. At the time  it seemed ridiculous but a decade on. He has made some of his best albums with the cartoon monkeys, and had more world-wide success than he ever did with Blur. Gorillaz were officially inducted into the Guinness book of world Records as the 'Worlds First Virtual Band'. Following on from this Hatsune Miku, a virtual hologram has become one of Japan's biggest popstars.
While some may groan at the idea of a Cat making an album. It's not that strange when you consider that LIL Bub is real. Most of us will never experience holding her. Andrew W.K. says "she is the softest creature I have ever encountered", but we can buy the album and experience the "sonic aura of BUB's loving and compassionate presence".
The downside is that Lil Bub will not be touring the album. But the upside is that she will never spend our hard earned on cocaine, or angrily sign autographs for us like most pop stars. She will always just be Lil Bub.

* Happily the profits will go to a cat charity. The album is available for free at


Saturday, December 12, 2015

BBC Introducing At CBSO 8/12/15 Review. Feat Project Jam Sandwich +Iosif Purits + Hansu Tori

The first act on was the Manchester based world music collective, Project Jam Sandwich. There are 5 members of the group. They play Violin, percussion, Double Bass and Spanish Guitar. The 'Jam' of course refers to the musical sense of the world, a tasty mix of flavours that is both jazz and classical influenced. They played re-imagined versions of classic folk songs. Including their take on 'gypsy jazz' and 'Whiskey in the Jar'. Which they have added to their set to give the audience something familiar as they know their shows can be a weird and wonderful experience. Project Jam Sandwich prove that Jazz and Classical music, as  well as being able to innovate in music, does not have to mean being overly pretentious or serious. The only quiet part of the show made their double bassist nod off, and need waking up by playing something a bit more energetic. Project Jam Sandwich are amazingly talented. They mix loads of different genres and influences together to create something unique but most importantly, fun.

Iosif Purits is a small, ageless man. Who was dressed entirely in black and had the smug look of a man who is really, really good at his chosen instrument. You have not heard Vivaldi until you have seen it played on an accordion. The fact that the Russian classical pieces he had chosen to play had been written many years before the accordion was invented goes further to highlight his amazing skills. The accordion is probably my least favourite instrument after the bagpipe*.  Yet when Iosif played I was amazed at the melodies, and depth of sound coming from this huge instrument. He plays with such precision and skill that it sounds as if there was a tiny orchestra coming out of it. He essentially plays two instruments at a time, while pushing and pulling those instruments together.

During his interview he explained that he has been playing accordions since he was 3 and started to learn professionally when he was 6 years old. And also that it is difficult trying to break through as a classical musician with such an odd choice of instrument, but he has no competition and no peers. Talent like his won't go unnoticed. 

Hansu-Tori had the job of finishing the night off. A new Birmingham act who play free-form jazz. Apparently Birmingham has a long history of producing jazz pioneers and the band leader, Pianist David Austin Grey spoken highly of the Birmingham scene, not just the jazz scene but of the scene as a whole. he also explained the meaning behind the bands name ‘Hansu’ means ‘water‘. “A drop of water gathering to make an ocean”. Specifically Hansu represents strength, flexibility, harmony and water as the source of life. ‘Tori’ is the Japanese word for ‘bird‘. It can be thought to represent freedom and grace. Water and Japanese/korean influences are quite a big part of the bands music.

This is all great. Problem is that I don't like Jazz. I enjoy listening to the Token Jazz Mercury nominees as there is usually something I like there. At the Lunar Festival I made it my mission to be as far as possible from the Sun Ra Arkestra. I appreciate jazz and I appreciated Hansu-Tori's set. They are a fantastic bunch of musicians. Each one is hugely talented, and unlike in most genres of music there is no clear leader of the band. Each member contributes but no one dictates the sound. I liked the skittish, frantic drumming. I liked the funky double bass. The saxophones were a bit too overpowering for my taste. I enjoyed the quieter pieces and I have no doubt that Hansu-Tori are a seriously talented bunch, but are they actually any good? Fuck knows.

*There was a time when you could be arrested for playing bagpipes in public as they were considered an instrument of war. I think we should bring that law back.


Friday, December 4, 2015

Guy Garvey + Steve Mason. Live at the 02 academy Birmingham (3/1215) Live Review.

Sometimes you wonder why the people at the door even bother. A quarter of the audience for Guy Garvey had beards, and at a sprightly 23, I was the youngest at the show by far. They checked my bag. Yet throughout the whole show I doubt they found any more than a few tabs of Ibuprofen. I had managed to win two free tickets to see Guy Garvey promoting his d├ębut solo album away from Elbow, "Courting The Squall". The first musician on stage was Steve Mason (7.2). The Ex -Beta Band member who has made a critical success of himself with his series of solo albums. I have no idea how he does it, but Steve makes the traditional format of guy singing with an acoustic guitar sound unique. His voice and guitar both rang out and filled the room with a pleasing echo. It shouldn't be possible. Yet with nothing more than a few chords he makes a noise that sounds like no one else. His set was short and filled with some friendly banter, as well as explanations for the political meanings behind some of his songs. I was really impressed.

You can tell a lot about a band by the merchandise that they sell. You will always find T shirts, signed cds/vynils and possibly a few posters. On Guy Garvey's merchandise table were Mugs with 'Unwind' and hip flasks with 'Courting the Squall' written on them. Which is a poetic way of saying 'coping with cold weather'*. Best of all was the bath robe. At over £30 this fluffy white bath robe hints that Guy really knows his audience. Despite this being the first tour, for the first solo album a huge crowd of Elbow devotees slowly filled the room. I have personally always admired Elbow for never following trends or using gimmicks. Never imitating anyone else and putting the music before anything else. There is a calm sophistication to Elbow's music. The same is true for Guy's solo songs.
Arriving on-stage to huge applause. Guy and co opened with the typically gentle ballad, 'Three Bells'. They changed the mood with 'Angela's Eyes'. A fun and bizarrely funky take on his usual sound, featuring his rather strange keyboard solo's. This was followed by the absolutely beautiful 'Courting the Squall'. This show felt less like a gig and more like a night at the theatre. Guy introduced us all to his super-group of Mancunians, including members of The Whip and I am Kloot, with the preferred nicknames to shout at them. Guy's drunkenness and Guinness drinking only made him more likeable. He is one of the rare singers who can talk to a huge crowd, while making it seem as if he's talking to each person as an individual. He was great at bantering with the crowd, talking about politics, the german market, the inspirations behind his songs, and responding to heckles just as a comedian would.
The show was fun and felt very spontaneous and relaxed. After nearly running out of his own songs Peter Jobson of Iam Kloot took over on piano to play two of his own darkly funny piano ballads. 'Belly of the Whale' made things nice and funky again, and the chant which he asked us all to sing throughout 'Broken Bottles and Chandeliers' was repeated long after he'd left the stage. Rather than just clapping and shouting, everyone sung this refrain over and over again unison until the band came back onstage. I'd never seen such a civilised or enthusiastic demand for an encore. Guy, Peter, and the guy from **The Whip all came onstage together for an acoustic cover of 'I don't want to set the world on fire' (by the Ink Spots). Guy asked us what song we'd like them to play, and immediately shouted 'Angela's Eyes?' OK! Only this time the keyboard solo was played on his other weird looking mini keyboard.  Without playing a single Elbow song Guy left the audience captivated. This was a master-class in putting on a brilliant show without actually trying.

* It's clever because they're both songs  on the album but also because you drink tea to unwind and spirits to warm yourself.
**The Whip are really underrated band, best known for the song 'Trash'. The 'X Marks Destination' LP is well worth hearing
I'd like to thank Setlist fm for helping me write this

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Salon: Contemporary Midlands Art.

Whether I'm going to exhibitions or taking photographs of graffiti.  I love art. I also have my own collection, which includes prints from local artists, Setdebellza, Bandito, Imbue and a massive Queens of the stone age Wembley arena show poster screen print. So I was excited about the idea of being able to go out and find more affordable pieces to add to my growing collection.
Salon is open from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am to 5pm until the 22nd of December. Unfortunately the majority of the items on display are a tad expensive. Yet still comparatively very cheap compared with the rubbish you'll find in a lot of 'fine art' galleries*.  If you want you can buy a massive sculpture  of a child's swing locked in motion, or a big sculpture of a load of wooden deck chairs stuck together. There is a globe that blows a gust of wind into a bunch of white bird feathers. Two films, one of a book of art being slowly turned page by page and the other of a train journey being filmed from the drivers point of view. The latter made me feel oddly nostalgic for my daily trips to Stratford Upon Avon. It was produced by Robert Davies and is available to buy for £9100. Which hopefully includes the projector and the big dark room. The main bargain was a series of Risograph prints, of areas of Birmingham  by Andre De Jong. you get all 7 unframed for the amazing price of £20. It breaks my heart but I don't have the space for them. So I probably wont get them. The prints are all of very dull  worn out suburban areas of Birmingham. I like the fact that it is very uninteresting scenes. The printing style lends a lot of colour to the pictures and the images themselves are quietly surreal. There are some lovely affordable prints by Karoline Rerrie and some amazing pencil drawings of animals. I love the copper prints, and collections of jars, on sale £20 each.  A lot of the pieces are reflective of life in the West Midlands. Every piece I saw looks modern and in some way reflects our era. The paintings of Malala Yousafzai are particularly poignant.  Of course many of the best works are the most expensive. Whether your buying or not though. Salon is worth visiting for fans of brilliant modern art, all by local artists.

*Just because it's signed/painted by Ronnie Wood, John Lennon, Bob Dylan or Stan Lee. Does not make it worth ten grand.