Wednesday 25 October 2017

The SolarFlares 13th and 14th October at The Water Rats with Special Guests The Fallen Leaves, King Mojo, The Embrooks and DJ Lee Grimshaw

The SolarFlares photographed by Paul Slattery
I'd like to thank everyone that came along to our Retro Man Blog presents The SolarFlares reunion shows at The Water Rats, I really appreciate all the fantastic feedback and comments which goes to show you all seemed to enjoy it as much as we did! Amy Kilroy-Buck kindly contributed her thoughts on the weekend. "When the tickets have sold out before the poster is even printed, you know it's going to be a bit of a special gig. Originally a one off to coincide with the vinyl reissue of three albums on Damaged Goods, the gig quickly became a two off in order to meet the apparently insatiable demand of fans and tickets flew out at a pace that makes this Retro Man Blog's fastest selling event so far. I went to both nights (as one does) and it really was pretty spectacular. Friday night began with an excellent set from DJ Lee Grimshaw before The Fallen Leaves took to the stage. The Fallen Leaves ('no jeans, no t-shirts, no cover versions') are always a joy to watch, with their punchy, catchy songs and unashamedly theatrical delivery. You'll find no wasted notes or excessive noodling here, just good, old fashioned, tweed clad garage punk.

The Fallen Leaves photographed by Paul Slattery
Rob Symmons of The Fallen Leaves photographed by Paul Slattery
I've never seen The Solarflares live before (I was 18 when they split up and only just starting to develop any kind of taste in music), but I've been a regular at Forefathers gigs for quite some time now and, like many of the audience, I was interested to see just how different an all SF's set would be, and if the addition of the Hammond really made much difference overall. Right from the first song it became apparent that it really, really does. The squirly, wailing chords add another layer of sound to an already powerful mix, and it also meant we got treated to the instrumentals Lunar Girl, Moonshine of Your Love, Angel Interceptor, and my absolute favourite, Girl in a Briefcase. With an extensive back catalogue to choose from, the choice of songs on Friday night veered from the poignant (Mary) to the witty (Feet the Wrong Way Round) through to the downright groovy instrumentals via the occasional audience singalong (Miles Away).

Allan Crockford of The SolarFlares photographed by Paul Slattery
Graham Day & Wolf Howard of The SolarFlares photographed by Paul Slattery
The Solarflares really do have something for everyone, and the multiple encores on Friday night definitely gave the impression that the band were enjoying themselves too. One gig down, one to go, or, as Allan joked, 'thank you for coming to our rehearsal for tomorrow'. I've never been to see the same band in the same venue on two consecutive nights before, but on Saturday we shook off our hangovers and piled back into the Water Rats, ready for some more. Saturday's line up gave us two support bands, the first of whom, King Mojo, had made the 500 mile round trip from the frozen north beyond the wall (all right, Middlesbrough) to kick things off for a second night of music. I've seen King Mojo before on their home turf, and as a live band they really are dynamite, combining sharp, spiky song writing with class musicianship. Their EP Ironstoned is on my 'to be reviewed' stack, so more on them soon. Definitely ones to watch, and a great start to the night.

King Mojo - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
The Embrooks - Photo Copyright Retro Man Blog
My nearest and dearest will be well acquainted with my tendency to keep banging on about how much I love The Embrooks, but I can honestly say that this band alone would be worth the trip down to London, and if you haven't seen them yet, I urge you to do so. Their stage performances have a manic energy that make them captivating to watch, and their songs will rattle around in your head long after the gig is over. Saturday was already off to a great start, and it was time for more Solarflares. With one or two small changes to the set the band seemed a little more relaxed than the previous night, and soon got into their stride. The Water Rats is a fairly cosy venue, but I decided to fight my way down to the front, and it was well worth the effort.

Wolf Howard of The SolarFlares photographed by Paul Slattery
As on the previous night the sound was full and vibrant, but there was an extra veneer of confidence there and definitely no clues that this was a band that hadn't played together for a long time. The long established team of Graham Day, Allan Crockford and Wolf Howard seem to have a collective sixth sense that we're used to seeing with The Forefathers, but the addition of Parsley on Hammond organ really did elevate this band to something pretty extraordinary. His playing is subtle and empathetic, and supports the guitar rather than fighting it. He's a snappy dresser too, and I hope we see him on stage again at another Retroman night in the future.

Parsley of The SolarFlares photographed by Paul Slattery
The Solarflares always talk about their band with great fondness, and Saturday's gig really did have the feel of a group of friends who were having a great time. The songs still sound new and fresh, and there's obviously some real affection from the audience. As the band came to the end of their final song, Graham leant his Gretsch Black Panther against his Vox and left the stage to a fanfare of self induced feedback. Allan dutifully switched off the amp as the band exited stage right to riotous cheers. The final encore of Father's Name Is Dad marked the end of a triumphant reformation for The Solarflares, and whether they do it again, or it remains a two off, it was a spectacular couple of nights for a few hundred people in Kings Cross." - AKB October 2017

Graham Day of The SolarFlares photographed by Paul Slattery
With thanks to Amy for the great review and to Paul Slattery for his superb photos as always. You can see more photos of all the bands over the two nights at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and some videos over at our YouTube channel here. There's also a great review of the Friday night show over on the always excellent Monkey Picks Blog which can be found here.

Tuesday 10 October 2017

Stag & Jon Auer at The Islington October 03rd 2017: The Return of Steve Mack from That Petrol Emotion

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
That Petrol Emotion just weren't made for the times, they were ahead of them and I was pretty devastated when they called it a day following the release of arguably their best album "Fireproof". Intelligent, fiercely political and musically innovative their songs were however always packed full of melody and they were a real inspiration. Despite one well received but ultimately short-lived reunion there didn't seem much hope that it would lead to any new material when front-man Steve Mack returned permanently to his native Seattle. Luckily for us fans, the rest of that final Petrols line-up, Ciaran McLaughlin, Raymond Gorman, Damian O'Neill and Brendan Kelly, reconvened with the stunning album "Anima Rising" under the name of The Everlasting Yeah. The guys decided against trying to replace Steve, instead Raymond and Ciaran took over the main vocal duties with all four contributing harmonies and they forged ahead with a set of completely new material.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
It was clear this was a new band, not a nostalgia trip and the strength of the new songs proved that they didn't really need to return to past glories. I often wondered what happened to Steve Mack until I discovered he was still active musically and in a new band called Stag and the good news was that they were coming to London to play thanks to Mute Elephant, the promotion agency responsible for the Indie Daze festival. It was great to catch up with Raymond, Ciaran, Brendan and Damian who were all there to show their support and meet up with Steve again. Also, in attendance was the ever genial Buddy Ascott once of The Chords and now in The Fallen Leaves, a big fan of That Petrol Emotion and of course mates with Damian and The Undertones from back in the day.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag took the stage and burst straight into the superb double hit of "Pharaoh" and "Come On" from their latest album "Midtown Sizzler" and it was immediately obvious that Steve Mack has somehow defied the ageing process. He's as full of energy now as he was during his heyday with That Petrol Emotion and it was great to see his familiar dancing again, one big blur of flailing arms and legs. Guitarist John Randolph was not to be outdone, leaping and throwing shapes next to Steve, adding to their full-on visual assault. Ben London adds some neat lead guitar work but his Marshall amp is almost as big as the room and right down at the front of the stage it's like standing behind a fighter jet at take-off, I still can't hear properly! The excellent rhythm section comprising drummer Rob Dent and bassist Pete Everett keep everything grounded nicely, allowing Steve and the guitarists to do their stuff with wild abandon. Stag are a good-time, no nonsense Rock 'n' Roll band with their twin-guitars and soaring harmonies that takes in such influences as the Rolling Stones, Big Star and Cheap Trick. Sure, they could be called Power Pop but there's also a tinge of pounding Glam Rock on songs such as the excellent "Bedazzler". However, my favourite song of the set was the slightly more raw and punky "She + Me" which was damn powerful and reminded me of The Replacements.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
The pace doesn't let up with songs such as the classic "These Times" and there's a nicely sleazy swagger to "Elegant Man" that recalls Paul Westerberg's solo work at his best. Teenage Fanclub get a name-check and on "Another Summer" you can sense their influence creeping in on the sunny harmonies. There's a bit of gentle ribbing about Steve's early 90's dreadlock hairstyle phase and he tells us that the locks are for sale at the merchandise stall. Yes, Stag are a band that make you smile, it's not just their uplifting music but they have a really great on-stage chemistry too and they look as though they are having as much fun as we are in the audience. So with both Stag and The Everlasting Yeah out there producing such exciting new music I think I can finally stop pining for a That Petrol Emotion reunion and just enjoy the here and now.

Stag at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
Four-Fifths of That Petrol Emotion at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
It was also a big bonus that the support act was Jon Auer, singer, songwriter and guitarist with one of my favourite bands The Posies. Jon has also played in Big Star and has released solo albums and projects such as Dynamo Royale. It was just Jon and his guitar tonight and he treated us to a choice selection of songs from his musical career interspersed with some humorous anecdotes and good natured chat. There were also a couple of poignant moments too where he paid tribute to his old band mate Joe Skyward, Tom Petty and Grant Hart. In fact Jon played a moving rendition of "Green Eyes" from Hüsker Dü's "Flip Your Wig" album, always one of Hart's most beautiful compositions. Big Star's "Thirteen" was likened to the "Hallelujah" of Indie Rock which led to a shaggy dog story on the cultural misappropriation of the Leonard Cohen classic now ruined by Pop Idol and X-Factor contestants the world over. However, my highlight was The Posies "Dream All Day" which Jon told us was a big hit in France on its release, a fact that once saved them from a grilling by the French police apparently. It was a thoroughly enjoyable set and I was also chuffed to get my copies of "Frosting on The Beater" and "Amazing Disgrace" signed after the show!

Jon Auer at The Islington - photo copyright Retro Man Blog
For more information on Stag check their web-site here, Jon Auer can be found here and Mute Elephant Promotions are here. You can see more photos of the gig at the Retro Man Blog Facebook page here and there are some videos from both acts at the Retro Man YouTube channel over here. Don't forget our special That Petrol Emotion/The Everlasting Yeah Retrosonic Podcast episode with Raymond, Damian & Ciaran which is available to listen to or download for free below...