Art, Live music review, Media, Music, Uncategorized

Cabbage – The Shimmer Band – April. Live at EBGBs, Liverpool. February 10th 2017

img_0728The first time I heard of Cabbage was during an interview on BBC Radio Five Live between Christmas and New Year.  They sounded young and bored and decried the lack of royalties they receive from Spotify.  As reward, no doubt for their appearance on the ‘serious’ talk radio station, one of their songs was played; Terrorist Sympathiser.  I liked it.  Sing-a-long lyrics sung by a bawdy lad drawing out his vowels with little regard for standing erect at a microphone stand. I thought of Johnny Rotten with his sleeves pulled over his clenched fists.

Forays into the music press revealed Cabbage as a bit of an upcoming band earning affection from music critics writing in broadsheet and music papers alike.  After looking them up and finding their scant website I discovered they were on tour and playing at both Manchester and Liverpool in the North West.  Manchester was sold out so I bought a dirt cheap ticket for the Liverpool gig at EBGBs.  The gig was last night.

EBGBs is the basement bar to it’s more grown up looking sibling Heebie Jeebies on Seel Street.  The cheerful door crew waived me through, I’d shaven my hair completely for the occasion, thinking the lack of grey stubble might help me blend in more with the kids. EBGBs is tiny with a bar in one section adjacent to the auditorium separated by a low arch carved out of the bowels of the pub and what once was, clearly, the cellar to the pub above.

After paying £4.50 for a bottle of Estrella Damm I ducked under the arch to see first support band April in full swing.  April are aptly named as the callowness of the band members matches the month which heralds the first days of Spring.  I imagine the band I played in at school looked a lot like April without the stresses and strains of being on a national tour.  They looked like a bunch of kids whose soap their mums had packed for them had long since worn out and they couldn’t work out how to recharge the batteries in their bum-fluff razors.  I was reminded of Ant & Decs attempt to re-create an episode of Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads with their appallingly applied 5 o’clock shadows fresh from make-up, in an attempt to make them look older and wearier.  These kids had it in spades.  They could play and their next single, Time, had a bass line worthy of a sample or two.  The bass player was probably the kid who took A level music and scored a grade 5 piano; there’s always one.

April dismantled and removed their equipment, The Shimmer Band moved  in and assembled theirs on stage.  Sound and light guys walked back and forth with tablets fiddling with the son et lumiere.  After much testing of microphones the Shimmer Band shimmied back off stage and the house sounds came on for another 10 minutes.  It was apparent the band couldn’t play their set without the benefit of sunglasses and they re-emerged donning cheap looking shades which suggested they’d spent the 10 minute hiatus in search of a 24 hour petrol station where they could buy emergency sunglasses.  A swirling opening worthy of the finest Dervish musicians began with the flabby arms of the  lardy singer emerging from a gold velvet t-shirt prodding towards the ceiling.   A stomp of his foot heralded the band joining in with the backing tape as it became suddenly apparent the boy could sing.  The white plastic sunglasses clashed strikingly with his velveteen t-shirt but the voice inside caused the audience to stop and register what sounded like an English Ronnie James Dio.  No sword and sorcery was this as punk energy met middle eastern rhythms during a noisy set of of well constructed songs.  I think they’re from Nuneaton…or was that April.  My listening and viewing pleasure was curtailed when a lady about 5′ 8″ tall stood on the step I was on at the back of the hall, smack bang in front of me with her 2 friends and they began to chatter and laugh loudly.  It was rude it was ignorant and I told them; selfish idiots.

Cabbage followed The Simmer Band.  I read a few live reviews of the band from their 2016 tour and to be honest they weren’t that positive.  The band’s antics were largely thought of as contrived and set them aside as rebels without much of a cause.  Another delay caused by the sound system and they arrived onstage at 10.10pm just after the chattering lady who’s rear neck I had become rather too familiar with had fucked off.   Cabbage continued the trend of the bands playing in ascending age order with their teenage years seemingly just behind them.  T shirts were quickly dispensed with by the two main protagonists of the band who between them shared lead vocal and guitar duties.  It was difficult to tell most of the time as the stage at EBGBs is only about a foot higher than the hall floor and even from my slightly elevated position, I could only see them from the neck up.

The moshpit was in full swing and I enjoyed the gig vicariously sharing the mayhem going on down the front which felt sticky and sweaty.  After two songs the road crew emerged to implore the audience to take a step back  as their momentum had caused something of a stage invasion.  The band said they were ‘fucking skint’ and couldn’t afford to replace any damaged pedals;  “There’s plenty of fuckin’ shit to go and smash up out there, but don’t smash up Cabbage’s equipment” the singer implored.  “Who thought this would be a good idea?” he rhetorically asked before bigging up the audience.  They were great; swigging beer and crowd surfing on an audience who provided backing vocals when the singer found himself po-going in the third row.  He amused me when he announced the next song was about dead people and ‘why we like shagging them’; I couldn’t restrain a reflective chortle.

The crowd, mostly made up of students (I think I was the 2nd oldest there), got their moneys worth with a set of blistering energy and well crafted punk-pop songs.  Cabbage 2017 are kids on fire who, if they took any notice of their critics in 2016, have learned to have a fucking good time on stage and let their music do their talking for them. If they don’t implode they have a chance to replicate fellow Mancs, The Happy Mondays as stardom awaits.  After it all finished the band came out and mingled with the departing audience.  I shook one of the singer’s hands and he seemed genuinely pleased when I told him I enjoyed the performance and what a great gig it was.  There was enough humility which made him likeable which, along with his talent should see them through.

Well done cabbage, you fulfilled my 5 a day.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Hateful Eight – A Review

My new year’s resolution for 2016 was to visit the cinema once a month, yesterday I went to The Island Cinema in St Annes On The Sea for my 3rd visit in as many weeks.

So Quentin, watcha got for us?  

A movie.

A movie, eh?  What kind of movie? 

A Western.

Ooh, a  western.  Any good?

Of course it’s good, it’s a Quentin Tarantino movie.

Oh, OK.

Actually, it’s not that good.  I mean it’s ok but this is a guy who’s back catalogue revitalised the movie industry with classics such as Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill and of course Pulp Fiction.  Django Unchained was uncomfortable but ultimately essential viewing and even Inglorious Basterds was a great watch.  It’s safe to say that my experience of the man’s movies to date left me perfectly satiated but The Hateful Eight is served like a big fat Christmas pudding that you don’t really have room for yet you masticate your way through it out of politeness before flopping ungracefully in front of the telly and dozing your way through the Queen’s speech.

I mean, it’s over 3 hours long.  What do you expect from QT?  Great dialogue, a cache of great tunes to add to your BBC Playlister, scintillating characters, ace acting and more twists than a box set of Tales Of The Unexpected.

First off we have Samuel L Jackson (again) and Michael Madsen (again).  Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and a host of other actors – and occasionally actresses – become the rather hateful 14 or so who make up the ensemble.  The action is shot almost entirely in the wooden shack that is Minnie’s Haberdashery – a late 19th Century truck stop of sorts where the coffee’s hot and the stew is good.  The outdoor shots are set in the snowy wilderness of Wyoming and compete with The Revenant for next year’s Christmas card vistas.

True to QT form there is the expected quota of gore, testicles being shot (a nod to IG) and a touch of nudity.  But 3 hours later you leave the cinema thinking there could have been so much more in so much less.  None of the cache of characters really develops into anything other than a cardboard cut-out of any number of Tarantino characters we’ve seen already through his back catalogue and maybe that’s the point.  We’re so familiar with them we know what they do and why they do it.

In a recent interview in Sight And Sound Magazine, Tarantino argued how the genre of Westerns through the decades reflected the prevailing zeitgeist of American political and social thinking.  If The Hateful Eight continues this trend and Tarantino’s brushes with American law enforcement departments over the past 12 months are anything to go by, then this post Civil War picture is a depiction of how the attitudes of post Civil War America are still prevalent in their country today although it is debatable whether Tarantino is doing a better job than Donald Trump of depicting the latter day bigoted American.

This, as you may have gathered is the least loved of Tarantino’s films, by me anyway.  The guy is an exceptional talent but this film might be an indication that either his skills are waning or his imagination has been sucked dry.  I’ll still await his next production with heightened anticipation but he lost a little of his gloss here. What’s next?  Something better, I hope.

Film Review, Uncategorized

The Revenant – A Review

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I did something yesterday which I don’t do as often as I once did.  I went to the cinema.  I went to the only independent cinema on the Fylde Coast called Island Cinema and paid a very reasonable £3.50 to see The Revenant.

The Revenant, as well as being a feature film of 2h 36m duration, is a vehicle for the acting talent of Leonardo DiCaprio and, as some suggest, might just net him the Oscar for best actor – it’s that time of year.

OK, what happens?  It’s 1832, the movie starts off in a hail of arrows  as a team of fur trappers, at the end of a 6 month tour of duty, are attacked by an army of Pawnee Indians who show no mercy in their pursuit of the furs the trappers have worked all season to collect.  The pace is fast and the action brutal as cameras follow victims underwater to watch them  drown and arrows kill indiscriminantly.   Post battle the hero, Hugh Glass played by DiCaprio, is violently attacked andmauled to  within an inch of his life by a mother grizzly bear .  Of the surviving trappers, 2 remain behind with the seemingly dying glass with the promise of a bonus when they return to their fort base.  One of the trappers turns out to be the villain of the film: John Fitzgerald played by Tom Hardy.  Some of Fitzgerald’s dialogue will be misunderstood by many who aren’t familiar with his deep Texan drawl but  his actions throughout the film are pragmatic and necessary for his own survival even if his menace is made malevolent by his own religious zeal.

Glass is buried alive up to his neck and left for dead by Fitzgerald.  The badly mauled Glass hauls himself out of his grave and so begins his journey back to the fort to exact his revenge on his nemeses.  At this point The Revenant becomes a road movie – a journey and like most road movies, be it Saving Private Ryan, Soft Top Hard Shoulder or The Duel, the story of Glass’s remarkable struggle home is punctuated with encounters with people, friend and foe alike, who would help him or do him harm.  The action is similarly slow and fast paced throughout but DiCaprio is put through his acting paces in the rugged snow bound terrain of the frozen Northern United States.

If there is anything which has put me off visiting the cinema in recent year it is the battle between every studio in Hollywood to out-special effect,  out-gore or out-vista their rivals.  Somewhere in the race to create the greatest cinematic spectacle the story is often forgotten along with the development of character and the thrill of dialogue.  The Revenant, alas, maintains this trend upping the ante with scenes of aching brutality and big screen vistas of snow filled territory.  It looks good but but then so did most of John Ford’s output, Lawrence Of Arabia and probably Broke Back Mountain although I haven’t seen the latter.  Just anything filmed in Montana essentially.

Glass makes it home after being attacked, mauled, buried alive, falling off a cliff, eating raw offal and surviving practically every other mortal threat the harsh and rugged landscape can throw at him, motivated to exact his revenge.  His leg heels remarkably quickly, the muskets are incredibly accurate for the era and that water must be terribly cold to survive in.  But that’s me being picky.  But the film ends in that style made famous by Braveheart and Gladiator (sorry, is that a spoiler?) and after 156 minutes it’s almost a relief.

I enjoyed Revenant but have been surprised that in all the reviews I have watched and read, no-one has asked what a Revenant is; it’s like there is a hint of snobbery about, that one must surely know and shouldn’t really ask.  Well prior to today I did not know that a revenant is someone who, quite literally, returns.

As well as being a fine spectacle the film is ultimately about survival in the new American Republic.  The human and animal occupants have co-existed for centuries on this hostile land which has enabled them to survive and prosper but the encroachment of the white European man has rattled the utopian food chain as a new species bids for supremacy at its head. There can only be one winner.

Good luck to Leonardo, he will probably win his Oscar for all those grimaces of pain and cries of anguish and I doubt there will be a more robust acting performance from Hollywood this year; Leo went through the mill and survived.  Go and see it on the biggest screen possible but don’t drink too much beforehand.

Live music review

UFO – The Seven Deadly Tour

UFO were the first band I ever went to see live as a callow long haired 15 year old rocker back in July 1978 at the Nottingham Playhouse theatre. The line up that day included 3 of the line up at tonight’s gig at 53 degrees in Preston, namely singer Phil Mogg, drummer Andy Parker and guitarist/keyboards Paul Raymond as well as other founder member Pete Way on bass and the mercurial Michael Schenker on lead guitar. Michael Schenker is long gone and tonight’s line up included American Vinnie Moore on lead guitar plus A N Other bassist for hire. I have no idea who was playing bass as he was never introduced but he was a bit younger that the other band members (about 40) but had the skinny black tea-shirted look of a bit of a rock n roll survivor and the sucked in cheek-bones to match – and bad tattoos.

This was my first time to 53 Degrees which is on the edge of the relatively new UCLAN the expansion of which has gone some way into reviving Preston from a decaying Northern town into a slightly more vibrant city and appeared to be a modern, purpose built venue with good eye-lines and decent facilities (bar). Ticket availability on the door suggested the 1,500 capacity venue wasn’t quite sold out but there was a decent sized crowd there to see the band now in their 44th year!

We got there in good time to buy a drink and find a spot to stand before the band came on to open with perennial classic Lights Out. The one thing that immediately struck me was the pace of the song seemed slower than the original album version and other recorded live versions. Perhaps it was no wonder, Phil Mogg (who I recently discovered I share a birthday with) is approaching 65 while Raymond is only two and a half years off his 70th birthday! Lights Out was immediately followed by (think I’ve got this right) Mother Mary and Let It Roll and you suddenly realised you were watching a class act with a brilliant back catalogue of top rock songs. The classics were followed by a couple of new songs from the new album Seven Deadly but bar a track from The Visitor album ‘Hell Driver’ the rest of the set was made up of songs from the classic ‘Schenker’ years all appearing on the magnificent Strangers In The Night love album.

The last time I saw UFO when they reunited with Schenker to tour in about 1995 when Schenker and Pete Way appeared to take centre stage and Mogg very much remained ‘stage rear’ and appeared at times to hold the microphone some distance from his mouth which I felt was to avoid us hearing his struggling vocal. But tonight he was in great form (for his age) definitely leading the band with a great rapport with American guitarist Vinnie More and loud and clear on the vocals. Whereas he’s gone from skinny jeaned chanteur in his older age he’s become camper and grumpy who wouldn’t look out of place doing stand-up in a local comedy club! But it was a nice touch when he remembered a local musician now departed. UFO have had great guitarists in the path so it’s impossible not to compare Moore with his predecessors, especially Schenker and his successor Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman. Chapman gave UFO a sometimes darker feel and also a pop-rock feel especially on the brilliant Wild The Willing And The Innocent album following Schenker’s melodic and thrilling riffs and soloing. Moore appears less fluid that especially Schenker and his CV suggests he’s played at the highest level with, amongst others, Alice Cooper, but never really played in a band at the top table. Not that I know much about guitar playing but I thought he might be a bit of a classicist at heart rather than natural born rocker but there were shades of Schenker when he held his guitar behind his neck and continued with a ripping solo, which it was great to see the mystery bassist joining in with. Perhaps a bit too much reverb on his solo during Rock Bottom and he certainly looked more comfortable playing his own compositions rather than from the UFO back catalogue. Raymond, in spite of his highlights and un-changing hair style looked his age at times and Andy Parker kept a steady beat at the back but there was no reason to fault them musically as they kept faith to the classics.

A great gig, much appreciated by us ageing rockers which also appeared genuinely received by the band members. Long may UFO continue to knock out the classic songs, here is what I remember to be the set list (not necessarily in order):

Lights Out
Mother Mary
Let It Roll
Cherry
Only You Can Rock Me
Hell Driver
Love To Love
Too Hot To Handle
Rock Bottom
Fight Night
Burn Your House Down
Wonderland
Encore: Doctor Doctor and Shoot Shoot