Schwervon!, The Lovely Eggs, Orphans, Little Hero Band– LAWM 49, 26.3.09

Anyone familiar with the Yorkshire House in Lancaster will know what a thriving venue it is. Tonight it plays host to local promoters LAWM and their penultimate gig. And what a gig! This is the climax for me of a fantastic series of events, forty nine so far, spanning the past three years. On June 12th LAWM will reach its dénouement, and bow out in certain style with a glorious alt folk night.

But back to tonight. The opener, Little Hero, took to stage, full band, with an act that over the past three years has grown in confidence and presence, combining thrashing guitar and bass over driving rhythm. Pete works equally well solo, but this is a different experience, highlighting the versatility of the guy, all pleading, screaming guitars and impassioned vocal. Pete Rawlinson gives the impression he really doesn’t give a shit if you get him or not, and he shouldn’t, because he does more than enough to justify himself amongst tonight’s esteemed company.

Orphans are tight. Kate, or is it Skatey J? on Sax now supplements the reggae, ska, post punk, thundering sound. Fact is, I really like this galloping madness, it sounds like these guys, and girl, are having real fun. The sax definitely gives added clout to the sound and punctuates the ensemble in fine style. ‘Finally we’ve been asked to do LAWM’ they announce, close call guys.

Aw, ‘Lovely Eggs’, I must say I love these two. I think they played the first LAWM, and having seen them a couple of times since, continue to admire their work. I say ‘work’, as the sum total of their output seems to add up to much more than its parts. This is art, rock, madcap fusion working a lo-fi , DIY aesthetic perfectly. From their stage presence and appearance to their lyrical wit and humour, The Lovely Eggs just ‘work’ perfectly. Holly plays the guitar and sings, all kooky, kitsch loveliness. God damn sexy stuff. David bounces around the kit, slide whistle, recorder combo with glee and joy, riffing on Holly’s vocal cues and verbal banterings. Tonight a special ‘Garstang Blue’ cheese song had been written to ease Holly’s pain at giving up cheese for lent. What a crowd pleaser. We’re a cheese loving bunch up here in the north west don’t you know. The set ended with ‘Have you ever heard a digital accordion’, The Lovely Eggs tune that we all seem to know and love. Ok, I think I’ve used the word ‘love’ enough now, lovely stuff.

Schwervon! are cult New York rockers Matt and Nan, bright lights of the NY underground DIY music scene. ‘Its like the ‘White Stripes’, but without the bollocks’ said my companion. Oo, more than that I’d say. The songs swerve and pile on the pressure (see what I did there), they ping pong from tender, mucky ballads to full on throbbing, shit storming screamers. ‘Musical porn’ he added as we swayed around giddily. I can’t quite explain his last comment, but I agree. Schwervon serve up sounds and sensations purloined from so many you love i.e. Pixies, PJ Harvey, Jeffery Lewis, The Stooges etc and present us with a satisfying, original fusion, ready to consume. So far from the mainstream but intense and thrilling. Real catchiness in the tunes belies the appearance of casual ease in their delivery. Watch Nan watching Matt’s every move and you know that these guy are perfectionists, and care deeply about what they do. So if you didn’t see them, poor you, note to self ‘I must do better’.
So, LAWM is preparing for its farewell gig, but I for one don’t think they’ll be away from the music for long. You can’t engineer a night like tonight and then depart; the cold turkey is going to be unbearable.


New Zealand Story — The Stonewell Tavern 27.3.09

The board outside The Stonewell Tavern announces ‘One of lancaster’s Best new Bands.’   Readers of The Lunecy Review and regular Lancaster giggers will know this is a brave boast in these times of a real upswing in the city’s musical talent.

New Zealand Story certainly rose to the challenge.  A musically competent, and excellently tight 5 piece I have to confess they aren’t the sort of band I would go see regularly, but I do like variety and as their set developed I actually grew to enjoy it more than my initial response.   They seem to take their musical cue from ‘The Stranger’-era Billy Joel as much as from anywhere, but at times they laced songs with subtle 1960s R’n’B hints.

One song, with the refrain ‘That’s just how I roll’ showed they could vary the tempo within a song and maintain their fluidity and tautness, but the female backing vocals didn’t seem to add much.  Maybe it was the mix, as the main vocals weren’t always distinct.

Their own songs showed craft and touches of wit, but the highlight of the first set (and I’m sorry guys, I didn’t stay for the second this time) was a soulful, passionate cover of Tom Waits’ ‘Way Down In The Hole’ that built to just this side of histrionics to great effect.*

So, New Zealand Story, not my regular cup of tea, but they may well be yours, and, you know, I think I’d go see them again.  Hopefully I’ll see you there too.

*just to note this is the theme song from The Wire which finally makes it to BBC2 this week.  If you haven’t seen it, make sure you catch up now with possibly the greatest TV show ever made.

Press Release

The Lunecy Review is a new website dedicated to covering the arts in the Lancaster & South Lakes areas. Covering local artists and those from afar who visit the area, The Lunecy Review aims to support, encourage and promote the huge numbers of talented musicians, writers, artists and performers of all kinds that make this area such a cultural highspot.

After just a few weeks online at the site is attracting attention from many sectors of the local artistic community. Now we want more, more readers (obviously), more contributors, and more news of events in the area that we, or our readership want to learn about.

Lancaster, Kendal, Ulverston, The Lakes, Morecambe and in between offer so much in the Arts that so few people are always aware of. From the successful L*A*W*M* nights at The Yorkshire House, to Poem & A Pint in Ulverston, featuring award-winning local talent such as novelist Sarah Hall and rising stars such as photographic team PRSquared and musicians Ottersgear and Jo Gillot, via the established events like Spotlight Club and the new ventures such as Vivid Arts, we at The Lunecy Review truly believe in the artistic community around the Bay and into The Lakes.

We also believe that a thriving community needs its critical component, which we hope we can be part of. For that we need readers and contributors, and of course that vital element, publicity.

The Lunecy Review

Please feel free to circulate this.

The Purging of The Nymphs

The Purging of the Nymphs
21st March 2009
Fell Foot Wood

Damo Suzuki, Electric Free Time Machine, Gnod, Herb Diamante, Goat Girl and Madame P.

Dusk draws in on a balmy spring evening, last years’ beech leaves spin down onto half-assembled tents. Figures shuffle down through the woods to congregate by the stage. Tonight is The Purging of the Nymphs – a psychedelic burlesque of avant-garde performance and improvisation guested by influential ex-Can vocalist Damo Suzuki.

Act 1, The Enchantment, kicks of with Herb Diamante, who visually looks like a cross between Andy Warhol and Anne Robinson. ‘I’ve eaten a lot of cheese tonight,’ says Herb, cigarette crooked and glowing. He looks out at the audience. ‘I’m wondering, am I dreaming?’

Looking up at the stage, we wonder the same thing as Diamante launches into a series of dark cabaret-Chanteuse beat-poems, belted out with a full-throated vibrato and set to a backing track of James Bond riffs, brass and electric guitar. Goat Girl comes on stage and adds shrill Kate Bush vocalising. That, alongside the Dietrich-cum-Lou Reed singing, in itself is quite arresting, but the effect is given a whole new dimension by the fact she wears a larger-than-life set of male genitals, gyrating and nudging as she sings. It’s a tricky balance, but I’d guess they take themselves just seriously enough. ‘You’re screaming like a rabbit/such a nasty habit!’ fades away to a mixed response, but it’s got peoples’ attention.

Next, after joining Diamante for a number, Madame P seats herself, Japanese-style, at her table of effects and performs a set of vocal-based improvisations. She has a beautiful, fluid voice, with a sultry, tender tone, and tonight she weaves it into dissonant echoing phrases. I think to myself I’d be happier listening to such a voice stripped down and given a different kind of workout, but tonight’s enchantment is deliberately off the beaten track.
The Satyr who is leading us all astray is the event’s organiser, Barry. He takes the stage to a swell of affectionate applause. He has been possessed by the nymphs, he says, and that is why tonight has come to pass. He recites a self-penned poem as an incantation, then exits on a tractor (N.B. for practical reasons) nevertheless bringing more cheers and applause.

Act 1 continues. Goat Girl returns to stage as Queen Shmu Qui, dressed as an astronaut, with rubber chickens and strange objects in her bum-bag. She baffles us for a bit then changes into a red flamenco-type dress, and seats herself with a guitar. ‘Frighteningly brilliant,’ says one person, ‘Frightening,’ says another. But then she performs a series of folk songs, to be joined by an accordionist, her voice and style not unlike Joanna Newsom, having a similar swooping, unguarded soprano, with whirls of non-linear melodies.

Act 1 is over, the spell cast, Enchantment complete. Electric Free Time Machine take to the stage and within sixty seconds a crowd gathers. Dave George casts off into a swirling synth ocean; the first bass line takes hold, picked up by an urgent swagger of jazz-funk drums. Guitars flex, the crowd cheers: Damo Suzuki clasps his hands around the mike (he does not let go throughout the entire set) and closes his eyes.

What follows is a constantly changing musical painting – each segment’s ‘canvas’ is pulled roughly on stage with a painter’s fervour, and is quickly filled, moving us through a series of passages each with a different attack: first, smears from the bass slides, then a spatter of drops flicked from the guitars, swirling currents washing all away to begin again. Twisting in his long-buttoned coat, Suzuki moves from scat to growls in the undergrowth, building mysteries with hermit foil. A seeming languageless, or multi-tongued vocalisation becomes an image of a man walking down the street and observing the rat-race, then we’re picked up and deposited in a seedy, jagged, gathering of people in the darkness and smoke of a back-stage door, a four-note scale could be a security alarm, a siren. And all the while, Suzuki twists and growls. ‘It’s like cleansing Japanese funk,’ said a companion, ‘it’s like he’s drawing the energy.’

EFTM make way for Gnod who start with a slow, ruminative intro, a bass lollops at a comfortable pace – they’re going to take their time and take in the sights. Mood set, Damo returns to stage and the sound gradually builds to a pulsing soundscape. We’re in the city streets again, but this time driving, and at speed. Thick-electric bubbles of effects, over strung by wailing, tripping guitars, create the sense of street-lights whipping overhead. We’re on a road-trip.

Barry returns to stage, to sit shaman-like at Suzuki’s feet, moving his hand slowly in time, but I’m not sure whether he’s feeling energy released from the stage, or he’s trying to get the band to wrap up. Either way, the purging process has sprouted its own wings. EFTM replug and join Gnod on stage, others come, it fills, overspills and people pick up djembes and percussion in the wings. The set ends with a full-on jam which includes a beguiling contribution from the members of Gnod on brass handbells in a fey, ever-changing loop.

Then, the power is pulled, the lights go out, drum sticks are confiscated.

But in the woods, the jam is only starting…

— reviewed for The Lunecy Review by One Baked Bean

Calling All Event Promoters

I was asked the other night how I afford all these events, and the simple answer is, with difficulty at this time of the month.  So Here we go with blagging on the blog.  If you want me to review your event, you need to let me know its on in good time, so I can plan my diary and budget. 

I don’t really like to ask, it was somebody else’s suggestion, but free entry would help too 🙂

The Spotlight Club 20.3.09

The Spotlight Club has been a fixture at The Yorkshire House for however long now, but later this year it moves to a new home: the recently re-developed Storey. That should be interesting.
Meanwhile The Yorkie has seen its share of good, bad and indifferent under The Spotlight, and if, as some say, it isn’t what it once was, then maybe they will feel inspired by the new venue?

Friday’s Spotlight was, like many that went before, a mixed bag. That old cliché, a curate’s egg. Cliché indeed being how I felt about the opening act proper, Pascal Desmond. Reading from his supposed autobiography, Desmond played on the stereotypical comic Irish upbringing, to no great effect I’m afraid. Occasional insight was balanced by liberal use of ‘the bollix’ and ‘shite’ and ultimately, overbalanced. Then he sang a song, ‘We just crashed our nuclear submarine’ bad enough before he lost the tune, the words, and then the plot.

Pamela Pottinger was altogether more assured in her delivery, which was a help. Her evocative first person account of tending her dying father’s wishes and arranging his funeral had the air of a Radio 3 Play, maybe even the darker comic touches of Alan Bennett in places.

After the break, rising star Kim Moore read some of her poems. If only Kim had full confidence in her talents, but perhaps her recent prize winning poetry will bring that and lose her sometimes shaky presentation.. Her verse is lyric, blackly observational, recognising those feminist commonplaces. That she can do this when inspired by a line from Johnny Vegas says plenty.

Simon Baker is more often compere than performer at these nights, but tonight he took on the frighteningly convincing personal of a bigoted, violent lad out on the pull, drinking and acting the big man. Homophobic, gratuitously sexist, scheming and manipulative, Simon’s character was pulled up short when his sister fell victim to someone probably just like him. The brutal ending as hate boiled over into violence gave listeners pause for a moment, how real was this guy?

The evening had started, as usual, with the half-dozen open mic spots, ranging from complete newcomers, Rebecca Willmott and Anthony Christie, to repeat offenders. A few months ago Kim Moore made her debut at the open mic, I’m not sure any of tonights acts will progress so fast, but good luck to them.

And there was music, but only at the end, from Dan Haywood’s New Hawks. Offering a choice to the audience ‘do you want a song in E Minor or one in D’ the crazy psychedelic folk was certainly different. In my notebook I find I’ve written John Otway meets Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, which is totally inaccurate but somehow conveys the feel of this band. Maybe not what some expected, but perhaps what was needed.
So a mixed night, quality wise, though maybe not as diverse as some occasions. I heard talk at another event of people trying to get some Stand-Up Comedy on in Lancaster, and that once upon a time Spotlight was a showcase for performers of all kinds. Well maybe the move to Storey will bring out the comics, the burlesque acts, the puppeteers and the mimes. Maybe, for all the undoubted talent on show, Spotlight is in a rut to a degree, and the move will revigorate? Let’s hope so.

Literary Prizes

Two of the UK’s top literary prizes made announcements this week.

The Arthur C Clarke Award announced its 6 book shortlist and the Orange Prize its 20 book longlist.  Some of you might be interested in reading these books before the prizes are announced, so I went looking in Lancaster.

Waterstone’s in the Market Place have 3 of the 6 Clarke books, whilst King Street has a 4th but not two that Market Place has.  So not a bad result really, I was disappointed not to find a copy of one book, but not surprised at the absence of the most obscure title on the list.

As for the Orange Prize, Market Place has just 5 out of 20, the same as King Street.   A poor showing really.

So if you want to read Ian R MacLeod, Bernadine Evaristo or others, you’re out of luck.  You could go in and order them, but should you have to?