L.A.W.M. February 27 2009

Remember that scene in High Fidelity where Rob arrives at a gig and hears peter Frampton playing? Well, tonight’s L.A.W.M. was a bit like that for me. I walked in to the sound of probably the least inspiring musical sounds I know. Ukelele and kazoo? No way! Way!
Propelled by some stunning stand-up bass Dr Butler’s Hatstand Medicine Band are one of those bands you discover occasionally who sound exactly how their name suggests. Real enthusiasm and comic timing won the day and their mutant swing melange of Spike Jones and Woody Allen had a few feet tapping.
Men Diamler in contrast didn’t really seem to know who or what he wanted to sound like. Each song could almost have been a different performer from delicate, wide open Palace Brothers to full-throated belters. ‘Ten verses’ tale of a dying man could almost have been an out-take from Leonard Cohen’s Songs Of love & Hate, whilst on ‘Life Is Terrible’ he stepped off stage and away from the mic yet filled the room with his roaring chant-along. Afterwards his friend asked me if I preferred the quiet or the loud songs, echoing my feeling that Men Diamler himself wasn’t sure what worked best.
After succesful previous appearances her many had come to see Nadine Khouri. She’s had to leave her band at home, accompanied tonight only by second guitarist Ruben Byrne. This meant limited opportunities for Nadine to strap on and lay into her telecaster, to the disappointment of many. Nevertheless her slower, sultry semi-blues grooves went down well too. She has an expressive voice which sometimes makes her impassioned lyrics less accessible live but blends with her overall sound to great effect as music.
It was L.A.W.M.’s 3rd birthday (and Nadine’s slightly more than 3rd) so all of Richard’s hard work was commemorated in the best way possible, chocolate cake.
I remembered Starless and Bible Black as being folkier and quieter than tonight. Their Pentangular intricacies giving way to a more Opal-escent rock sound with layered guitars, shimmery psychedelic keyboards and heavier grooves. The one constant is their ace card, the sweet voice of the gorgeous Helene. Wether singing in English or her native French, or just teasing the audience between songs she holds us in her hands. I swear I heard her say ‘Merci! Mercy buckets!’ after one bout of rapturous applause. Truly this band may be bible black but with Helene and guitarist Peter they are far from starless. If there is any justice shows like this one ought to lead to Starless reaching similar levels of acclaim as the likes of Howling Bells. The rockier boogie closer swings hard and an encore is demanded and acceded to.
Later Helene tells me they have two new albums recorded, one due in September. Hopefully Starless And Bible Black will be back in Lancaster soon.
So, just like Nick Hornby’s narrator I was impressed despite initial doubts. Unlike his character I didn’t sleep with any of the bands tonight.

The Opposite Of Robot 22 February 2009

It used to be that every young woman with a guitar wanted to be Joni or maybe if they were more romantic Judy collins. Not so anymore, if Lancaster student but native Londoner Jo Gillot demonstrates. It seems the singer-songwriter these days is re-writing the kitchen sink melodramas of the early 60s rather than the fey dreams of a few years on.
In Gillot’s case this means odd lapses into Kate Nash-isms before her voice swoops and soars again like a more robust Joanna Newsom and the strength of her lyrics becomes more than just clever clever word play. Opener ‘Bit of Zen’ and the jazz-tinged ‘Part of the Plan’ stood out.
I missed most of Joanne Levey‘s set only catching her rendition of Bob lee’s old music hall tune ‘Rawtenstall Annual Fair.’ There;s an element of music hall in the Kate Nash/Lily Allen stylings around of late, but it isn’t really my thing. Joanne’s voice is strong though, and it went down well.
All of which leads us to one of Lancaster’s more idiosyncratic talents, the ubiquitous Mikey Kenney in his latest incarnation Ottersgear. Well known as One Chip Potato and as the wild fiddler with Dan Haywood’s New Hawks, you know what to expect from Kenney, something different. This was Ottergear’s live debut, catch them whenever you can if you like an eclectic mix of violin, guitar (from the aforementioned Mr Haywood), hand drums and I think a reed organ? Throw in Mikey’s askew folk-pagan lyrics about drinking faerie wine in the woods and his unusual voice and you end up with something akin to a folky Arcade Fire. Or, to put it another way, you end up with a good time.
Finally, the main event, totally new to me, The Winter Journey. As they took the stage I was struck by thoughts of The Handsome Family in that mismatched couple out of Grant Wood way. Musically they began with hints of 60s folk-popin Anthony’s guitar work but then it was underlaid with quirky, subtle electronica. At its best moments of which there were certainly sufficient, the ghost of Red House Painters emerged more than anything. This is a good thing. Then on one song rythmic accompaniment was Suzy’s tap danceing. Now this I have my doubts about, but it didnt mar a mixed set that also took in Carter Family duettting and occasionally incongruous electronic whoops and looped handclaps. Sounds odd, it was odd, but it worked. A pity for them perhaps that Jo Gillot’s army of admirers had drifted away but those who stayed enjoyed I think.

The Spotlight Club 20 February 2009

Last night saw the Spotlight Club’s annual Slam event at The Yorkshire House. As usual a good turnout gave a warm response to all the acts good and well actually none of them were bad as such. They ranged in style, of course, from fairly conventional rhyming verse albeit not necessarily conventional subject matter (eg Sue Seddons graphic yet blackly comic In The Stirrups) to impassioned flowing hip hop and straightforward stand-up comedy.
Some performers were nervous (‘I have to confess I’m scared shitless/I hope you don’t think my words witless’ began one) others more experienced. At least one did a poem I’d seen them perform previously, whether thats good or bad I’m not sure.
So it was a tough call for the judges, and in the end the votes were close. My german friend was bemused at one of the winners, the humour not translating, but overall I wasn’t surprised.
3rd Mark Mace-Smith (£15 Winner)
2nd Lynne Crook (£25 Winner)
1st Paul Neafcy (£50 Winner)
But all 15 competitors did well, nobody was booed off or had a failure of nerves. I wished I’d had a go myself, it looked fun.