Sunday 9 November 2014

Graham Day & The Forefathers, The Fallen Leaves & The Dustaphonics at 229 The Venue October 31st 2014

Graham Day & The Forefathers by Paul Slattery
The Dustaphonics opened tonight’s proceedings although they very nearly didn’t. Just before the gig I heard from the band’s guitarist Yvan that is was touch and go whether they would actually be able to go ahead with the show as singer Hayley had badly injured her knee beforehand. Luckily the show went ahead and Hayley not only put on a brave face, but a great performance too. Despite not being able to stray too far from her supportive microphone stand nobody would have known she was in any sort of discomfort. However, unfortunately the medical problems weren’t to end there as a few songs into their set, drummer Eric suddenly felt faint and had to leave the stage. 

The Dustaphonics by Paul Slattery
There were a few minutes of uncertainty and the three remaining members jammed a bit until Eric reappeared, shaken and a bit stirred but able to continue. So, continue they did and they rallied against the odds to play a fantastic set mainly compiled from their stunning new album “Big Smoke London Town” which has already been reviewed on Retro Man Blog here. On record The Dustaphonics signature sound is one of quite lo-fi guitars but live the band are much more powerful and Yvan’s guitar is considerably higher in the mix. It works a treat and their brand of good time Rockabilly, R’n’B, Soul, Surf and Garage Rock was a perfect way to start the show. My highlights of the set were their debut single "Party Girl", the new album's title track and a storming version of "Don't Let The Devil Drive Your Car" also from the new album. I have to give a special mention to DJ Dave Edwards who played some great tunes in between the bands and I was particularly impressed to hear him give Les Kitschenette’s a spin, he does have great taste!

Hayley Red of The Dustaphonics by Paul Slattery
Next up were The Fallen Leaves and as I am a regular at their “Minimum R’n’B” club nights at the 12 Bar (on the first Wednesday of every month for your information…) I am used to seeing the band crammed onto that venue’s tiny stage. The stage at the 229 however is massive, so it was nice to see the band afforded some space and this suited them down to the ground, giving front-man Rob Green the chance to show off his full repertoire of tricks. Rob is a proper singer, and with his vintage microphone he’s a crooner in the grand old tradition which contrasts perfectly with the visceral attack of Guitarist Rob Symmons instinctive, primal playing style. 

The Fallen Leaves by Paul Slattery
In our Retrosonic Podcast Fallen Leaves special edition, the two Robs explained this juxtaposition of their two very different styles and roles. They both admitted that it would not work in any other way – “If I was singing with anyone else it would just sound weedy and if Rob played guitar with anyone else it would just be a noise, like Joey Ramone and Johnny Ramone”. But despite their admiration for New York’s finest, The Leaves are as English as Terry Thomas or P.G. Wodehouse with their tweed jackets and cravats, pocket watches and smoke rings blown into the air, although nowadays these come from electronic cigarettes. Then there is the curious “tea break” during “Shining” as Singer Rob slowly and deliberately removes his jacket, gets out his thermos flask and sips from a china mug. It’s like a Japanese tea ceremony performed with a junkie’s ritual, the first band that could be sponsored by PG Tips rather than Jack Daniels. 

Rob Green of The Fallen Leaves by Paul Slattery
Rob Symmons stands far left, crashing his fist against his guitar, wringing notes out of it, bending strings and crashing chords, the sheer aggression is off set by his enigmatic smile. Originally he played alongside Vic Godard in Subway Sect and was responsible for such searing riffs as “Ambition” and “Nobody’s Scared” and yet he’s still a criminally underrated guitarist. The Fallen Leaves Bassist Matthew Karas, resplendent in velvet smoking jacket and shades, spins a web of spidery bass runs and adds a blast of harmonica on the superb “Passing By”. Drummer William Lewington is the band’s rough diamond, and every band should have one. He’s a South London Artful Dodger and he adds a huge punch of impressively meaty drums into the equation. I have recovered at least three pairs of Bill’s shattered drumsticks from the floors of various venues after Fallen Leaves gigs. 

The Fallen Leaves - photo copyright Retro Man Blog 2014
Tonight, the band played a short sharp shock of a set made up of their perfectly formed sing-along Garage Beat songs; it’s a set that rarely changes so they have it down to a fine art just like their beloved Ramones. The occasional new song is thrown in every now and then and tonight it’s the turn of “Prodigal Son” and whilst us Leaves regulars might be hoping for a bit of variety to spice things up, there is no doubting that their precise, well honed set always seems to wow first timers and tonight they get a great reception. Oh, by the way, did I mention The Fallen Leaves residency at the 12 Bar, Denmark Street on the first Wednesday of every month? See you there!

Graham Day & The Forefathers by Paul Slattery
But tonight was all about Graham Day & The Forefathers and the official launch of their new album “Good Things” which was being snapped up all night by eager fans from a merchandise table groaning under the weight of State Records goodies. Wolf is positioned right at the front centre stage despite there being a proper drum riser which is unusual for the sort of venues I normally go to. In fact it's not a great venue, it's more of a soul-less school hall with a very high stage, which must be almost 6 foot high. I suppose this is fine to get a view from the back but for a band such as Graham Day & The Forefathers, who have gone on record as saying they prefer more intimate gigs, this is not ideal. Wolf is flanked by Graham and Allan on either side and it looks good, I like it when drummers are pushed to the front, it adds a different dynamic to the proceedings. 

Graham Day & The Forefathers by Paul Slattery
Unsurprisingly we get pretty much all of the track-listing off the new album and they blast off with the only Prime Movers track to make the grade, the title track “Good Things”, which bristles with pure Stooges raw power. Its The Solarflares songs that feature heaviest in the set, which suits me as I think the quality of that period is second to none. We are treated to tracks from each of the Solarflares albums including “Mary”, “You Always Find a Way To Hurt Me” a vicious “Sucking Out My Insides” and “You Want Blood” which are all faultless and go down a storm with the crowd. Such is the quality of The Solarflares material that even a B-Side makes the cut rather than a more well known Prisoners track and we get a storming version of “Open Your Eyes” which was the flip to the 7” single “Reflections”. From The Prisoners it’s tracks from “The Last Fourfathers” album that dominate, “Whenever I’m Gone”, a soaring “Thinking of You (Broken Pieces)” one of the best love songs ever written, and the set closer “I Am The Fisherman”. In between we get a scathing “Be On Your Way” which spits vitriol and proves that the unfairly treated “In From The Cold” album certainly had it’s good points and then there’s “Love Me Lies” from "Wisermiserdemelza".

Wolf Howard & Allan Crockford - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog 2014
Rather like The Soundtrack of Our Lives with their similarly impressive back catalogue, Graham Day knows how to write songs which at first listen might seem to wear their influences quite prominently on their sleeves. But what at first might seem familiar soon grows into something fresh, vital and always contemporary. These are songs that cross genres and generations, they are songs that run the gamut of all emotions and moods. Whether it is the upbeat soul of "Deceiving Eye", the moving and powerful "Mary" or the all out heads-down Garage Punk blast of "Sucking Out My Insides", these are basically classic, timeless songs that deserve to be lauded as much as anything written by those other great British song-writers Weller, Marriott, Davies and Townshend.

Graham Day by Paul Slattery
Unfortunately, I missed the encore as I was in "discussions" with a bouncer as the security company decided to line them up in front of the stage facing us as though it were the last minutes of a football match. It did make it all a bit uncomfortable and a real dampener on the end of the gig for me. As anybody that was there would attest, the crowd were extremely good natured, there wasn’t one hint of aggression – and I am sure that a very large proportion would have had great difficulty in invading the high stage even if they wanted to! I really didn’t understand the security company’s totally unnecessary and negative policy. After hearing of some other people's similarly negative experiences I did write to the promoter who graciously said he would pass on my comments to the security company and I hope they improve their set-up and learn some common sense.

Graham Day, Wolf Howard & Allan Crockford - The Forefathers by Paul Slattery
I’ve written so much about Graham Day & The Forefathers recently that I’m fast running out of superlatives. I have been so all-consumed by the band since they decided to get together to celebrate the back catalogue of Graham Day written material that I find myself quickly losing patience and interest in most other music. It’s getting to feel like an all out addiction and tonight could well be my last glorious fix for some time. After their forthcoming sold out gig in Dublin it’s anybody’s guess what will happen to the band. As much as I'd love this to run and run, I do understand somewhat reluctantly, that there is only so far The Forefathers can go, there’s only so much regular playing of old material that will satisfy band and audience alike. Given that the whole concept of The Forefathers is pretty much a fan’s dream come true, it was somewhat ironic that one of the first questions people asked me when they knew I was going to interview Graham, Allan and Wolf for Retrosonic Podcast was “ask them when they are going to release some new material”. After all, with his last pre-Forefathers outfit The Gaolers, Graham’s song-writing, guitar playing and singing had evolved into something really quite special, and you can only imagine what amazing new songs might be buzzing round his head right now. Allan is singer, songwriter and guitarist in his own superb band The Galileo 7 and he might want to concentrate on this for a while, especially as he has a quite brilliant album “False Memory Lane” to promote. Wolf too is busy with his art and photography and involvement with Billy Childish & The CTMF who are about to release a new album on Damaged Goods Records. I’d like to hope that in the future, regardless of whatever individual paths Graham, Allan and Wolf do take, that The Forefathers could pop up every now and then to give us that fix. But now is the time to just enjoy it while it lasts, to kneel in the presence of these mighty songs, bow down before them and repeat the mantra “we are not worthy…!”

Graham Day by Paul Slattery
Don't forget that our very special edition Retrosonic Podcast with Graham Day & The Forefathers is available to listen to and download below or free of charge from our regular Soundcloud site or you can now subscribe for free at the iTunes store, and keep up to date with all future episodes. With thanks to Paul Slattery for contributing the excellent photos, Paul also did the cover photography for the Forefathers "Good Things" album. You can see more photos by heading on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hitting "Like" if you are not already following the page.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Les BOF! and Oh!Gunquit at Weirdsville Saturday October 25th

Tina Bopper of Oh!Gunquit - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog 2014
In all my years of gig-going I’ve come to realize that being “down the front” can often be fraught with danger. Over the years, I’ve been regularly elbowed in the head by chicken-dancing Psychobillies at Cramps gigs and been knocked unconscious in front of Discharge at the 100 Club. I’ve been crushed underneath Swedish man mountain Ebbot Lundberg of The Soundtrack of Our Lives, been covered in Black Flag singer Henry Rollins’ blood and been half deafened by the Ramones. I’ve had a Goth fall on me from the top of a human pyramid at a Sisters of Mercy gig and nearly been decapitated by the swinging bass of Steve Huggins of The Len Price 3. I’ve been intoxicated by the fumes of spliff smoke at a Brian Jonestown Massacre gig and been hit on the head by a large bottle of water (or at least I think it was water…) at the Reading Festival. I’ve had bruised ribs, cigarette burns and trodden-on toes. I’ve been spat at and had beer thrown on me one minute, then shaving foam and water squirted in my eyes the next; actually come to think of it, those last four were just by bands! I’ve lost count of all the black eyes, bloody noses and bruised knuckles but I can categorically state that I have never been assaulted by a large fluorescent hula-hoop before. Yes, standing at the front of an Oh!Gunquit show brings its own very special kind of danger. Actually, I have to admit it’s not exactly an unpleasant kind of danger, for wielding the hula-hoop is the rather wonderful Tina Bopper – who manages to sing whilst keeping the hoop spinning throughout the duration of the wired Bo Diddley Rockabilly shuffle of "Mentalist Twist".

Simon and Alex of Oh!Gunquit by Dan Criscuolo copyright 2014
To say Oh!Gunquit are unique is a bit of an understatement, this was the first time I had managed to catch them play live but in every promo photo or video I’ve seen they seem to have a different line-up and different instruments. Tonight the band take the stage as a three piece with lead vocalist Tina, an energetic shock of peroxide blonde hair who only stands still when playing the trumpet or swirling her hula-hoop, which she sometimes does at the same time, it’s an impressive talent! Then to her right there’s the pencil-moustached Simon Wild on guitar, vocals and Kung-Fu moves and then there’s the impressive drumming of Alex. A quick fire hat-trick of superb tracks from the new E.P. "Cindy's Got a Tiger" closely followed by "Bad Bad Milk" and "Lights Out" are as good a sequence of songs as you are likely to hear all year. Half way through the set the band’s glamorous bassist Veronica suddenly gets on stage, plugs in and tunes up as the band rumble along. 

Oh!Gunquit by Dan Criscuolo copyright 2014
Oh!Gunquit by Dan Criscuolo copyright 2014
But there’s still something missing. I like a bit of Sax every now and then and indeed some of Oh!Gunquit’s recorded songs remind me of the great Boston band Morphine who, before the untimely death of front-man Mark Sandman in 1999, played stripped-back swampy Blues with their unorthodox line-up of Sax, slide Bass and Drums. So I was a bit disappointed that there was no Saxophone tonight but I suppose it was hardly surprising given my recent experiences of Sax players going AWOL at my own Retro Man Blog gigs. None of the Saxophonists from King Salami & The Cumberland 3, Les Kitschenette’s or The SuperMinx ’70 could make their respective shows for varying reasons, so I am beginning to believe that there must be some kind of weird Voodoo jinx going on between me and Saxophones! Actually, Oh!Gunquit do evoke a kind of swampy Voodoo sound that conjures up The Cramps and The Gun Club and Simon swings his guitar and shreds our ears with loud twanging Surf riffs. The songs are packed full of hooks and tuneful little twists, and there are echoes of early B-52’s at their most humorous and danceable best. Paul from Dirty Water Records is there in the crowd, they’ve just signed up Oh!Gunquit and I’m sure there must have been a queue of suitors with pens and contracts in hand trailing the band. Anyway, hopefully Dirty Water will put out a debut album very soon; it’ll be one hell of a record that’s for sure.

Les BOF! - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog 2014
I’d generally feel a bit sorry for any band who had to follow that storming set from Oh!Gunquit but luckily it’s Les BOF! and in Laurent Mombel they have a live-wire front man who is even more of a blur of energy than Tina. As the band strike up the chords to the first song "Port St. Louis" the elegantly attired Laurent suddenly appears amongst us in the audience before jumping on a speaker stack and then to a nearby table, encouraging us to clap along and move closer to the stage. Checking that there are no flying hula-hoops nearby I do indeed venture back to the front and all we have to deal with is Laurent jumping into the crowd at regular intervals, bringing microphone stands crashing down on us, ah that’s more like it! At first listen you might think Les BOF! are a French band, from their name to the song titles and the fact that Laurent sings all the songs in French, however the band are based in Edinburgh and only Laurent is from France. 

Laurent Mombel of Les BOF! by Dan Criscuolo copyright 2014
Laurent even chats to us and introduces the songs is in French so it’s rather amusing at one point to hear the band talk and joke amongst themselves in broad Scottish accents when Angus messes up the intro to a song. Whereas Les Kitschenette’s don’t write their own material but scour the vaults of 1960’s French Freak-beat and Ye-Ye obscurities and make them their own, Les BOF! write songs that sound so authentic it’s as though they could be from the era that Les Kitschenette’s plunder. Les BOF! have that vintage sound down to a tee and infuse their Gallic tinged nuggets with a large helping of bouncing Brit & Mersey Beat. Les BOF! have the songs and the look and the moves. Ex-Thanes guitarist Angus assaults us with some vicious fuzzed up riffs and crunching chords and the great rhythm section of drummer Ross and bassist Colin kick up a beat that gets the dancing going from the very start. Laurent hardly stands still for a second, he is in the crowd again then he’s on his knees playing a mean bluesy harmonica and then he’s bashing away on a large tambourine. 

Les BOF! by Dan Criscuolo copyright 2014
He’s a full on mash-up of James Brown knee drops and spins and the high kicking showmanship of Howlin’ Pelle from The Hives. The band play most of their fabulous debut album “Nous Sommes Les BOF!” with my personal highlights being “Mon Heure”, “P-Club” and "Ils Vont Tuer Le R'n'R". A few choice cover versions are thrown in such as “Jezebel”, Jacques Dutronc’s “Cactus” and a storming version of Plastic Bertrand’s “Ca Plane Pour Moi” which incites an energetic stage invasion. I chatted to Laurent after the show and unfortunately there are no immediate plans for a follow up album any time soon but let’s hope they don’t keep us waiting for too long. Weirsdville is open for business on the last Saturday of every month at the Fiddler’s Elbow in Camden/Chalk Farm. They are in the process of announcing the line-up to Hipsville 2015 and so far they have confirmed Oh!Gunquit and the fantastic Italian Bovver-Boot Glam Punk of Giuda. It’s going to be a great event.

Les BOF! Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog 2014
Oh!Gunquit feature in our latest episode of Retrosonic Podcast and we pick a great track from Les BOF! in Episode 8. Thanks to Dan Criscuolo from The Fuzillis for contributing the excellent photos.