Sunday, August 28, 2016

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Review!

My first time doing the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was exhausting from the start.  As soon as we got to the top end of the Royal Mile I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the huge amounts of people walking a bit too slowly. Overwhelmed by people giving us endless leaflets and people performing on the street. We decided to head to one show as it started in ten minutes but ended up missing it because of us getting lost in the back streets of Edinburgh. The guy at the box office who didn’t let us into that show gave us a load of recommendations, and led us to the Three Sisters pub. We ended up being led into a tiny room to see Lucy Pearman perform her show #Crackinprogress. We had no idea what to expect but a load of us had to squeeze into a tiny room.  I had to stand on a sofa with my head by one of the speakers. A woman dressed as a big egg, who talked in a quiet southern American accent went around the room asking us to kiss her, she pulled out a bag with eggs and put them on people’s heads. She gave one guy a big sign with ‘Mr Strong Hands’ and she got us all to sing ‘who wants to see my family’ over and over again until she revealed what was inside the egg box she was holding. Even Lucy admitted she had no idea what was going on, and the show had a loose plot but was mostly entirely improvised and relied on audience participation.  I don’t want to ruin the surreal joy of her show with spoilers, but her show is highly recommended.
The next show we saw was in the Opium pub by the Irish comedian Rory O’Hanlon, simply because we walked past the pub and he told us it was on in 10 minutes. This was a far more conventional stand-up comedy show but no less funny for it. His jokes were mostly about, drinking, Australia, Ireland and Irish attitudes to life. Which felt familiar yet still hilarious.
The smallest venue of the festival by far was The Titter Van. A For Transit which held stand-up comedy shows every 15 minutes for £1.  The show I saw was Pete from the Comedy trio ‘Imaginary playground’ dressed as a priest holding a sermon where all involved had to worship a spare tire by putting our hands through its holes, confessing our sins into to it and finally marrying each other through it. All while Pete made gurning faces and shone a torch through the tyre in the tiny dark van. Worth every penny.
The last show was also on in ten minutes. Thankfully the long dark alleyway was the route to ‘Comedians against Humanity’ rather than a mugging. Hosted by Yianni Agisilaou and featuring guest comic Ben Van Der Velde and Sully O’ Sullivan, as well as another comic I can’t remember the name of (I think his name was Matt). The premise was simple, Each audience member would pick 3 white cards against humanity, with random phrases on them while the comedians would choose the black cards and create comedy routines based entirely from our suggestions. It helped that each comedian had a totally different style and personality. Some of the routines included, Manchester United giving up football to instead slap people who take the vegetarian option, Theresa May’s death committee and their plan to kill Samuel L Jackson and the Police efforts to combat the new drug ‘Black Death’  with Grammar Nazi’s who are also actual Nazi’s, and the euphoric rush of killing a homeless person. Like the other shows this was totally free, but with donations encouraged. It was an exhausting but brilliant day.
I've nabbed the above photograph from

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Crywank + Luke Rainsford. Live at the Wagon and Horses, Birmingham (9/8/16)

If there was ever a perfect support act for a Crywank gig then it had to be everybody's favourite sad Wolverhamptonite Luke Rainsford* (6.8/10). Much like Crywank, Luke sings sad songs on his acoustic guitar, and on this occasion he was backed by a percussionist tapping away on a wooden box.  The more I hear his songs the more I'm impressed by the almost poetic lyrical content.  Although like Crywank, there is a bit of a self mocking irony behind them. Quite a few people showed up to watch his set, and he even got to play a few extra songs. It was definitely one of the most passionate performances I've seen of his and also one of the best.  
It's funny to think that I only discovered Crywank (8) a week ago. I found their new album on their band camp and halfway through listening to it downloaded their back catalogue. It's been funny telling my friends and family all about how much I love their music, and seeing their reaction of the name. In truth it's the perfect name for them considering how much sadness and sexual frustration feeds into their songs. Having never even seen a picture of them before, I ended up talking to their drummer for 10 minutes about bacon rolls before realising he was in the band. While James -The singer/songwriter of the band- is much more fun in person than his sad songs would have you believe. On-stage he comes across as a sort of depressed Al Yankovic, telling bad jokes in between songs. While their new album is a huge step up in terms of production, their live show is still as DIY and stripped back as it ever has been. With no more than a wooden stick, bucket and wooden box as the drum-kit and James on acoustic guitar. Crywank put on a captivating live show. This is mostly down to James' talent as a guitarist. Despite him claiming on stage to not be very good at guitar, I'm impressed by his finger picking ability, and almost Spanish style of playing. It wasn't a huge crowd but it was obvious that they were blown away by how much the crowd loved them. There were plenty of funny moments. Like Dan getting to sing his song about paper-clips, the crowd getting the chance to scream whatever shit we liked during 'privately owned Spiral Galaxy' . James broke a string and used it as a guitar strap, before borrowing Luke's guitar for the rest of the show. Even after 20 songs they got an encore request. After the show I got my Vinyl copy of 'Tomorrow...' signed with the messages "Yo James don't die soon, much love" from James and "I'm overwhelmed, thank you, Dan", with a drawing of a snail** -His spirit animal-. In true DIY style, they had no place to stay that night, and swapped exclusive demo CD's for weed. 
Afterwards me, Crywank and few others went to the pub, despite only being strangers before the show, it was a good night. 

* I missed Craterface, who was the first support act. 
 ** It's a strange coincidence that La Priest also drew a snail on my copy of his album, they'd probably get along. 


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Soundlounge Festival 2016 review. Feat Mariee, Kemi Suloa, Dorcha, Butternut and Karl Monroe.

Kemi Suloa
Project Sound Lounge is run by a group of Birmingham based volunteers between the ages of 18 to 25,  who put on free events in birmingham. The project is in part produced by the Birmingham town hall and Symphony Hall. Each year they put on a free festival in Birmingham's Town Hall,  which showcases some of the best local talent.  This year I got there for around 5 and the first act I got to see was Marieè. (7.2/10) Marieè's set was opened by her DJ duo Phantom, who put together a short set of mashed up trap tunes (including Hudson Mohawke's 'Chimes'). I will admit now that Neo-soul is not really my thing. Usually Neo-soul is the section of the Jools Holland show where I make a cup of tea. Yet the genre was a recurring theme of this years festival. Marieè's take on the genre is incredibly slick and modern sounding. Much like FKA Twigs or Christine and the Queens* she mixes her music with synchronised dance routines. She also has the kind of piercing soulful voice that  would also sound brilliant singing vintage soul as well as R&B. She covered Alunageorge's 'You know you like it' alongside her own very futuristic sounding R&b tunes. I feel that Marieè could easily follow in the steps of other Birmingham diva's such as Jamelia and Laura Mvula. Yet despite the quality of the music, she's yet to craft any songs that have a lasting impact on me. 
Kemi Suloa's (7.2) take on soul is a bit more traditional, but her brilliant band were able to
effortlessly mix the style with hints of funk, and reggae, particularly on her cover of Bob Marley's 'Is this love' and her own song 'people'. Which is about people who hold themselves back. Over all their set was smooth jazzy and soulful, and everyone got their chance to shine. While I have seen countless bands over the years I've never seen anything like Dorcha. (8) Who are Gothic in more of a theatrical sense than stylistic one (they covered Siouxsie & and the Banshees 'Into The Light'). They use keyboards, synths, guitar and shrieking violin to haunting effect. They reminded me a bit of early Arcade Fire, late Joy Division or Bjork, but they don't really sound like any other those bands. Their songs are minimalistic yet grandiose, with a loose and almost jazzy sense of rhythm. If any band was made for the perfect acoustics of the Town Hall it was them. Their final song was a self confessed 'bit of a mad one' which mixed staggered guitar strumming, and screaming to terrifying effect. Dorcha make the soundtracks to your surreal nightmares. 
Butternut (7.2) are the Neo-Soul Project of Stuart Barker. While he claims to be taking a break from jazz with this band. Butternut are definitely very jazzy. Stuart is dryly funny on stage, yet thankfully the band are far better than his crap jokes. They were able to cover Jimi Hendrix (if 6 were 9) with ease and play interpolations of Dizzy Gillespie, Gil Scott Heron and, erm, Skee-lo. Another highlight was 'the pinback'. A dirty slice of Jazz-Funk which was inspired by Stuart's dad having his ears pinned back. Karl Monroe (7.6) are actually a four piece brummie psychedelic rock band rather than just some guy called Karl. They are everything you'd expect from a modern day psych band. From the reverb drowned guitars, inaudible vocals, pounding drums, and shoegazy effects. Karl Monroe, are definitely in the same mould as Tame impala. Yet with a modern take on retro sounds, which reminded me of The Arctic Monkeys are their weirdest. There was a summery, surf-rock style to their guitar work which reminded me of the late great Dick Dale's classic 'Miserlou'**. I'm happy to see that Birmingham is still in no way short of great bands.  


Kemi Suloa

Karl Monroe

* Not bragging, but I've been listening to her for years now. You lot were slow to catch on.  

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Mercury Prize: opinions, thoughts, facts and odds.

Has it really been a whole year since the Mercury prize last announced it's nominations? Looks like there has been a few changes as well. First of all it's now the 'Hyundai Mercury Music Prize' which is kind of ironic. This would signal that they have sold out. If not for one of the the most varied and interesting Short-lists in years. You also get to choose which album you'd like to win. The album that gets the most votes is included in the shorter-list.
As usual there is an obscure jazz album by a group entitled The Comet is Coming (25/1*). Who alongside other bat-shit crazy modern jazz groups such as Polar Bear and Moon Hooch, are making some amazingly fucked up jazz. They won't win, obviously. Anonhi (5/1) seems to be in with a bit of a chance. I've not heard much of the album because while I hugely admire her bold production and outspokenness. I kind of miss her old music back when she had her Johnson(s). The tender piano balladry and themes of sexuality and death were easier for me to relate to. I've never cared much for Jamie Woon (25/1), but Michael Kiwanuka's (10/1) album 'Love and Hate' surprised me by how much I enjoyed it. It's expertly crafted, sand full of lush orchestral backing. It may sound like a throwback to the likes of Marvin Gaye and Gil Scott Heron, but that is only because of how (depressingly) relevant the music they made still is. I loved both Bat For Lashes (16/1) and Laura Mvula's (16/1) last LP's, and while I've not heard their new ones, I reckon they're both in with a good chance. I love everything I've heard from Savages (16/1) 'Adore Life', And I would love them to win, I think they deserve it, as they are the kind of band that only comes around once in a decade or so. I'm irked by the inclusion of The 1975 (12/1) on the list. I like the style of music they make but I just don't like the music they make. I worry that they are a shoo-in for the fan vote. I don't begrudge their success, but I don't think they are deserving of the award. After years of the award being criticised for not representing Grime this year we have both Kano's (12/1) 'Made in the Manor' and Skepta's (8/1) 'Konnichiwa'. While the genre has been gaining momentum it is only now that we once again have milestone albums to judge it by. Kano's tune 'This is England' Is one of the best I've heard all year, while Konnichiwa is a masterpiece of the grime genre. Distinctly British yet very diverse in style for such a small sub-genre. It's packed full of brilliant tunes, fantastic production, and thoughtful, funny and downright violent lyrics**. 
That leaves us with the biggest names of all, Radiohead (5/1) and David Bowie (2/1). Radiohead's  album has divided fans in comparison. I admire the fact that they use their status to made bolder and stranger albums than their contemporaries ever dared, yet I bemoan the lack of actual tunes. 'A Moon Shaped Pool' is an album of huge beauty and depth, Yet I feel that the genius of albums such as 'Kid A' was how exiting and fresh they made all this experimentation seem. I just feel that the song's don't match their own grandeur.
I am a huge fan of Bowie's. I was convinced that Blackstar was the start of a bright new chapter in his career and I was heartbroken to find this wasn't the case. It is one of the best albums he ever produced and one of the most ambitious of his career. Facing his own mortality yet taking brave steps into Jazz, Drum & Bass and Hip Hop. Bowie always looked forward rather than backwards. I feel that the best way to honour him is to do the same. He doesn't need acclaim or accolades***, so I feel that it should go to someone else.
In my opinion that should be Skepta. 'Konnichiwa' is one of the most enjoyable listens of the year, it's full of fantastic tunes, great rhymes and great production. With the grime revival in full swing, The Mercury panel have a chance to honour one of it's best achievements.

* all odds from ladbrokes
* For lyrics calm. 
***No disrespect meant, the same was true last time he was nominated