Sunday 31 July 2022

Downliners Sect, The Masonics & The Fallen Leaves - Tribute Show for Don Craine at The Half Moon Putney, August 21st

Sunday August 21st at our favourite venue The Half Moon in Putney sees a very special afternoon tribute show for the head Headcoat, the late, great Don Craine of The Downliners Sect. Contemporaries of the Rolling Stones, Pretty Things and The Yardbirds, Downliners Sect came into being in Spring 1963 when deerstalker-hatted rhythm guitarist Don Craine found Keith Grant and the Sect was born. They played their own brash and exciting brand of R'n'B and still do, Don and Keith played together for 60 years. They agreed that, whatever happened to either of them, the group would carry on. With the sad loss of Don in February, Keith, as promised, carries the name Downliners Sect on. This concert is a tribute to the Deerstalker wearing Head man himself, Don Craine. Downliners Sect fans and friends, The Masonics and The Fallen Leaves will be fitting special guests on the day. In fact, Don and Keith teamed up with Billy Childish and Bruce Brand, the current Masonics drummer, to form Thee Headcoat Sect in the 90’s. The Fallen Leaves are rooted in the classic vein of their locality of Eel Pie Island/Richmond/Twickenham British Beat and R'n'B and feature members of Subway Sect and The Chords. This is sure to be a very special afternoon so book your tickets directly from the Half Moon Putney now from this link. All proceeds to Macmillan Cancer Support. For more details please check out the Facebook Event page here and please note this is an afternoon session starting at 1pm. Here are some great photos of The Downliners Sect by my Retro Man Blog colleague, the photographer Paul Slattery.

Top photo The Downliners Sect at the BBC radio studios control room Maida Vale with Rob Symmons of The Fallen Leaves. Second photo, the band in the studio. Third photo Don with Bruce Brand of The Masonics backstage at the 100 Club. Bottom photo Don onstage at the 100 Club. All photos copyright of Paul Slattery.

Friday 8 July 2022

Baby Shakes, Duncan Reid & The Big Heads, Smalltown Tigers at the Pump It Up Power Pop Weekender, The Lexington July 3rd 2022

One of the joys of live music is that you never know what special moment you could be there to witness. Tonight at the climax of the Pump It Up Power Pop Weekender at a packed out Lexington, that special moment was to see Damian O’Neill and Billy Doherty from The Undertones take the stage with New York’s finest Power Pop Punks, Baby Shakes to deliver an ecstatic run through of “Teenage Kicks”. It was a sheer delight, both Billy and Damian looked as youthful as they did performing the classic on Top of The Pops back in the day, they have hardly changed and I am extremely jealous! I’m not sure who was the happier, Damian and Billy both grinning ear-to-ear and lapping up the affection, Baby Shakes who looked chuffed to bits to be sharing the stage with two of their musical heroes or us in the crowd, singing along at the top of our lungs. Of course, there is history between Baby Shakes and The Undertones as you can discover in our thoroughly entertaining Retrosonic Podcast with Mary, Claudia and Judy, where they not only talk us through the band’s history and influences, but also explain how they got to know The Undertones. This mutual appreciation culminated in the superb Dimple Discs Records 7” single on which the band covered “Sweet 'n' Sour”, the suitably Glamtastic song from Damian’s solo album “Refit Revise Reprise” along with Billy’s Undertones B-Side “Really Really”. It was our single of the year and quite rightly so. 

It was the first time to meet Baby Shakes in person since our comprehensive interview for Retrosonic Podcast, which I had enjoyed immensely. The band’s glowing enthusiasm and love of music totally won me over as we discussed their influences including some unlikely mutual favourites such as The Gymslips, Chron-Gen and the Incredible Kidda Band. I was even more delighted to finally get to see the band play as circumstances always conspired against me on their previous visits to the U.K. They certainly didn’t disappoint, as their perfectly-crafted good time Rock ‘n’ Roll songs lit a fuse among the adoring crowd. Right from the start of the brilliant opener “Do What You Want” the energy zapped around the room and there were smiles all around me. None more so than from the band themselves as the chemistry between vocalist and rhythm guitarist Mary, bassist Claudia, lead guitarist Judy and drummer Ryan was a joy to see. It’s always nice to see a band enjoy playing as much as we enjoy watching them. Just like The Undertones, Baby Shakes also have a summer anthem of their own, the high voltage “Summer Sun”, which is received with a huge cheer. The great songs keep on coming, my personal favourite “Cause A Scene” starts off with a Sweet-style drum intro before changing gear into a Glam-tinged tale of life on the road. 

As we covered in our Podcast, Baby Shakes also have a conscientious side as is apparent in their benefit shows and the good-cause supporting record releases and they hint at the unrest in their home country with a blistering version of MC5’s “American Ruse”. They hit us with another great cover version, Claudia plays a superb bass intro that evolves into an instrumental take on Radio Birdman’s “Hand of Law”. It really works, sounding almost like a Spy movie theme tune, a great and unexpected treat. “Another Place” and “Cruisin’” crank up the good vibes even more and next to me, Sophie from The Big Heads can hardly control herself, hollering at the top of her voice and dancing with Duncan Reid and Mauro from The Speedways. Then after a brilliant “Love Song In Reverse”, Mary introduces Damian and Billy for “Teenage Kicks” and Sophie can’t resist leaping on stage in her excitement to add backing vocals. It’s fantastic to be able to get that cathartic thrill from live music again after all the trials and tribulations of two and a half years of the pandemic. “Stuck On Blue” closes a quite exceptional set that I really didn’t want to end. I just hope that Baby Shakes come back for a full U.K. tour very soon, although in the meantime they are now off to the Continent for shows in France, Spain, Italy and Germany – those lucky Europeans! 

Baby Shakes set was the culmination of the Pump It Up Power Pop Weekender run by the Some Weird Sin club night gang that includes Mauro of The Speedways and Simon from Desperate Journalist, both former bandmates in Jonny Cola & The A-Grades. They invite a pick of International Power Pop bands which over this weekend included The Yum-Yums, Alvilda, Radio Days and Caroline and The Treats. Unfortunately, the Saturday night clashed with The Gruesomes first ever U.K. show so I only made it along on the Sunday evening in time to catch a brilliant set by Smalltown Tigers. The Italian all-girl trio took the stage dressed in black and white asymmetrical 60’s style outfits and I was expecting a lighter Mod Pop sound. However, appearances can certainly be deceptive. 

I should have noticed their big Dr Martens boots as they kicked my preconceptions into touch with a sound that was far more powerful and raw than I was expecting. It certainly shook the Lexington to the rafters. The band played a superb set of pumped-up Punk Rock ‘n’ Roll featuring songs off their current 8-song mini album “Five Things” of which the ominous Cramps style riffing of “Darling Please” was a personal highlight. Monty’s crushingly powerful chords and the excellent pounding drums from Serena are topped off by bassist and lead vocalist Valli, who has an awesome voice. Valli has a wonderfully raw growl that reminds of Kim Shattuck of The Muffs, apt then that the band are called Smalltown Tigers. There are shades of L7 and the Runaways in the band’s sound but they stand out on their own with the melodic attack of songs like “Just Friends” and the album title track “Five Things”. Oh, and they end with a blistering thrash through the Ramones/Motorhead classic "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." I bought a copy of the album on vinyl at the show and saw Damian O’Neill also clutching a copy as he had his photo taken with the clearly awestruck band. The good news is that I will get to see them again as they are supporting the original Damned line-up at the Hammersmith Apollo in October, I'm looking forward to that very much.

Duncan Reid and The Big Heads were next up and the purple clad former bassist with The Boys was a perfect choice to follow Smalltown Tigers and warm us up nicely for Baby Shakes. The melodic immediately memorable tunes and Duncan, the human dynamo himself, bouncing all around the stage left us all breathless, not just from singing along but with the sheer energy of it all. Duncan has assembled a superb band around him and he allows them to shine, each one a character in their own right. Guitarists Sophie K Powers and Nick Hughes on either side and behind them the excellent drummer Karen Jones who slams around the drum kit with impressive power. Duncan and his three Big Heads have a great chemistry between them and the all-action dynamics of their performance are mightily impressive, they must be one of the best live acts around. My highlights included the superb “Bombs Away” and “C’est La Vie” and of course they end a brilliant set with probably one of Power Pop’s most enduring anthems, The Boys “First Time”. I need a sit down after all that!


Please click on the highlighted links throughout the feature to discover more information along the way. Our Retrosonic Podcast specials with Baby Shakes, Damian O'Neill and Duncan Reid are still available at our archives - you can subscribe for free at Spotify, iTunes, Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts and Amazon Music. Videos of all three bands on the night can be found at our Retro Man Blog YouTube channel here. All photos and videos copyright Retro Man Blog. 

Thursday 7 July 2022

Thee Moot "Mood Swings and Roundabouts" - A track-by-track guide to an album packed full of harmony, rhapsody and melody

Every now and then an album appears out of the blue that hits you right between the eyes. I have to say that the third LP from Thee Moot "Mood Swings And Roundabouts" is one of those perfect albums where all the vital factors are ticked off. From the no-filler sequencing and dynamics of the 12 songs in 40 minutes track-listing to Steven Lambo's excellent cover art to the stunning production by the band and Ed Deegan at Gizzard studios. All four band members are at the top of their game, the lyrics and songwriting, the superb playing, it's all there. In fact, what Thee Moot have on their hands is a timeless masterpiece that transcends genres and musical eras effortlessly. It touches on all your favourite records without once sounding cliched or obvious. The band were formed out of the ashes of one of the best covers bands around, The Transients. Bassist Mark Leech, Drummer Philip 'Freezer' Pinch and Guitarist Dave 'DC' Clark recruited Mark's former bandmate in 80's Psych-Popsters The Onlookers, Singer and Songwriter Nick Stone to concentrate on original material and boy, did they make a good choice. The first thing I remember after seeing Thee Moot play live was that I could remember every one of the songs they played straight after the show, how many bands do you see where you can't even remember one bloody tune? The choruses were stuck in my head for days after. In fact, it was almost as though I'd seen The Transients play a set of my favourite songs as tracks like "Backs Me Down", "Don't Push Me" and "Tabloid View of The World" were instantly as familiar. This is testament to the band's songwriting skills and the fact that their lean, stripped back sound and DC's icy, memorable riffs allow the melodies to bury themselves into your eardrums. 

Thee Moot are not an easy band to categorise and to ditch any notion of cover versions and get out there armed with a set of all original material, skirting genres and musical rules and regulations, is a brave move. If you are looking for reference points, I guess you could start with The Onlookers who ploughed a similar furrow back in the 80's with their tuneful Psych. They also remind me on occasion of the much-missed Playn Jayn with their immediately memorable tunes and Dave Clark brings a touch of Post-Punk and Lower East Side NYC 70's Punk with his inventive riffing. Of course, clues can also be found in the eclectic set-lists of The Transients as they played songs by a diverse range of Bands and Artists from Billy Childish to The Gun Club, from Television to The Saints to The Small Faces. From The Nerves and The Modern Lovers to The Flys - always avoiding the obvious. But I reckon Thee Moot are mostly deeply rooted in the catchy British Mod-Psych-Pop of The Afex "She's Got The Time", Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, Fire's "Father's Name Is Dad", The Creation, The Kinks "Village Green Preservation Society" and The Sorrows "Take a Heart". Two more wonderful covers The Transients played that could have paved the way for Thee Moot were Wimple Winch's "Save My Soul" and Rupert's People "Dream on My Mind", hopefully this might narrow things down a bit!

So, as I have had the album on repeat for days now, let's take a track-by-track look at "Mood Swings And Roundabouts". Firstly, according to the sleeve notes the brilliant title is "a celebration of the joys of lockdown and of the rollercoaster of life pre and post pandemic". It's Nick's essentially personal reflections that will, however strike a chord with all of us who endured the past two and half years of COVID-related hell. Thee Moot have captured the very essence of all the ups and downs, highs and lows, anxieties, and the occasional bright points, of the world during lockdown. The opening track "Alone By Myself" sets the scene perfectly with it's crunching guitar intro that leads into an insanely catchy song with some great drumming by Freezer Pinch. It faces up to the insecurities of going out and mixing socially again after periods of isolation "I build a little bunker at the foot of my bed, covers over my head" and "forgive me, I get the jitters when I socialise". The follow up "Armageddon", despite the uptempo, catchy nature of the music itself, seems to despair at what we are doing to our planet as the opening line attests "Beam me up Scotty, I've had enough". The song buzzes about cheerfully despite Nick's concerns that "the future is ominous, maybe space is a better place for the human race?" But true to the album's title, the mood swings with "Live To Fight Another Day" which reminds me of Blur around the time of their "Modern Life Is Rubbish" album. That was when they seemed to discover the joys of Julian Cope and they had songs like "Pressure on Julian" and "Coping", hmmm do I detect a slight nod to their influence in those two titles I wonder? Maybe the Blur reference isn't so strange as DC's playing sometimes reminds me of Graham Coxon, who I've always thought was an underrated guitarist, and Nick seems to channel his inner Anthony Newley here. It's a great song with some effective stabbing keyboards adding a nice touch. Oh, see if you can spot the accidental sound effect.

"What You Got To Shout About?" is a rollicking call to arms, a two-minute-two-fingers up to all those bullies of the meek and mild mannered and I like the line "Button it and hear me out, shut your mouth!" as the song slams shut. The melancholy "Gentle Devil" hints at the mental health issues faced by many people during the pandemic, "I'm gentle but I live with the Devil" Nick sings, "Misanthropic and bad mannered, I'm on the slip and slide inside myself". These intense lyrics are all complemented by some quite beautiful guitar work that adds a real gravitas to the song. "Looking Down Upon Myself" is another reflective track which has hints of Bowie and starts off with a sublime ringing guitar riff by DC and bubbling bass-lines from Mark. Two unashamedly upbeat and nostalgic songs follow, firstly "Penelope Coincidentally" which rattles along at a fair pace underpinned by some excellent bass. "No. 73 was a thing on TV back in the 80's" Nick reminisces, indeed it was and The Onlookers made an appearance on this rather naff Saturday morning kids TV show, it's there on YouTube if you don't believe me. To their credit, they do manage to keep their cool and deliver great versions of "You & I" and "Chieftain" despite Dennis Waterman, Hazel O'Connor and dancing children cavorting around them. If that wasn't bad enough, at one point bassist Mark Leech is submerged in a bath of yellow custard. Who says that we didn't have entertainment back in the day?! "Go! Harmony, rhapsody, melody" they sing, and quite right too! In fact, I think that would make a perfect slogan for a Moot T-shirt. Then next up is "Go Pele Go" which has a nice Stonesy swagger and Nick sharing his boyhood memories of the Mexico '70 World Cup, of dazzling colour TV and the equally dazzling gold and green of Brazil. There's a jealous comparison with the jumpers-for-goalposts, mud-soaked footie on a cold and wet day in In-ger-land while in Brazil they played on exotic sun-kissed beaches. As someone of a certain age, I can still remember the pain of heading one of those rain-soaked laced-up leather cannonballs, so this song really hit home with me! 

What follows is a four song sequence that really elevates "Mood Swings and Roundabouts" to another level. I always thought that you can tell a great album when it builds to a crescendo with a final run of killer songs rather than meander to a disappointing end. So the next track "Blisters" really throws off the shackles with a huge in-your-face guitar riff intro from DC. In their early recordings I sometimes felt that Thee Moot were holding back a bit, sometimes a bit restrained even and it wasn't until the fuzzed up and aptly titled "Let Your Hair Down" on their last album "Peel It To Reveal It" where they really started to kick-off. But there's certainly no holding back with "Blisters" as it cranks up the energy levels into overdrive, topped off with an insanely catchy chorus. The lyrics seem to tackle this confidence issue with self-deprecating humour, "So what if we haven't got the faces to mention, not so photogenic and we're hard to remember" ponders Nick, but enough is enough, now they're going for it. They want us to know they mean it and feel it and they are now going to fight for attention. Any struggling band without major backing or record label support will be able to empathise with "Blisters" as Nick nails those all too familiar hardships and doubts that must play on many musician's minds at one point or another with a stinging line, "Why play anyway when nobody hears ya?" It's a harsh reality. But this is followed by the positive rallying cry "Someone's gotta bang a drum for live music mister, we hit so hard we're covered in blisters". Believe me, you'll find yourself cheering at this point! "Marigold" is a sublime piece of British Psychedelia that suddenly hits you with a crunching chord change and chorus and there's some nice underlying organ adding texture. Dave Clark's guitar work again shines and Nick's voice is on top form, this is up there as one of Thee Moot's greatest recorded moments. 

But then again, next up is "Tonic For The Soul" which may well be the highpoint of the album for me. Just when you think you're at the chorus another killer section slaps you around the head and the organ along with the "Let's Spend The Night Together" style backing vocals pile on the melodic overload. The ringing guitar riff highlights the uplifting message that music cures, puts a "sparkle in my eyes, reactivates my mind". It's an absolute belter of a song that's crying out to be released on 7" vinyl, it would make a classic single. In the superb closing track "Dressing Gown" Nick sings "Yeah, far from the madding crowd, I am still wearing my dressing gown" brilliantly capturing those initially positive effects of the lockdown. The blue skies of that amazing weather when we thought we'd have a nice time off work for a bit and it would all be over in a month or so. Ah, I remember those days clearly, the long walks, the clean air and for me, living under a major flight path and near a motorway I certainly felt the difference profoundly. No cars or planes, the carbon omissions dropped and the only noise pollution was that of the birds singing. You could appreciate nature as Spring bloomed all around. Yeah right, little did we know of the devastating couple of years ahead. "Dressing Gown" tackles the issue of climate change so well and Nick hopes that "Earth will rebuild itself if we redeem ourselves". It's true, that first couple of weeks of Lockdown were like a window into an alternative reality of what life could be like if only we respected the environment so much more. Musically, "Dressing Gown" is a fantastic tour-de-force and a perfect way to close the album as it slowly builds to a crescendo with some stunning Richard Lloyd/Tom Verlaine guitar work from DC. Not to be outdone, Mark suddenly goes all JJ Burnel on us and his bass wigs out as the multi-layered guitars wash over the ending of a quite brilliant record. If former Shack and Pale Fountains frontman Mick Head hadn't just released his own masterpiece "Dear Scott" with the Red Elastic Band, then "Mood Swings And Roundabouts" would be dead cert for album of the year already and we're only just into July. Harmony, Rhapsody, Melody!

Thee Moot will be playing at the High Tide Festival in Twickenham on Sunday July 17th (organised by the excellent Eel Pie Records store) and then at the Acoustic Couch in Bracknell on Thursday July 21st. The album will be getting an exclusive play on Alan May's "Glory Boy" Radio Show on Sunday July 10th too. For more information on Thee Moot and how to order "Mood Swings And Roundabouts" please check out their official Facebook page here. All live photos copyright Retro Man Blog.