COME ONE, COME ALL: JOHN HALL’S GROOVY BALL

“…so when you get drunk Wilson, and you reminisce of the Hacienda, be told with a beautiful story of your own proper John Hall bender.


– Leon The Pig Farmer

John Hall is missing. Scan the faces assembled by the stage and nowhere within his usual 4-feet-from-the-front can today’s man of the moment be seen. It’s late afternoon at Manchester’s Ritz where already, a wide-eyed gang of his groovy friends and acquaintances are uniting for a gala celebration and musical fundraiser marking his existence. Of John I know little; our paths first crossed in the snug of Salford’s Eagle Inn. He’d taken a liking to a friend’s socks and since then has been the guy with a grin on his face, panning his camera back and forth from artist to audience whilst filming the scenes unfolding before him (and sharing the gig footage online for fellow revelers to see). Today is a celebration of life and music in John’s honour and, like a Marvel comic power-huddle uniting the forces of his favourite musical friends met in sweaty mosh pits along the way, it’s now from the balcony where he watches. Below, legions of guests gather to revel in a bash to behold, like Capote’s Black & White masquerade ball had it been held in Manchester. Only without (pandemic-precautionary!) face masks, where rainbow is the colour, and everyone’s invited.

“oo’s missed discos?” booms a bold northern accent down the microphone. Loose Articles don’t ask questions; they demand answers, and in no time at all the audience respond to their interrogation as the local 4-piece punch through a set of X-Ray Spex style post-punk stompers, transforming the venue’s basement into their own euphoric dungeon. Doused in traffic-light hues giving each member a green-red aura, their bratty B-52’s-meets-Bis bounce, Cramps-like shrieks and whistles blown unleash their own torrid tales of grievances including a trundling bassline fuelled by the familiar frustration of the 142 bus route. ‘Chaos’ captures the party atmosphere as the band disappear from view among an increasing number of bobbing heads, almost censoring Natalie‘s beaded flame-print leotard which later, outside, catches the eye of a bouncer who chuckles with the humour intended.

Having been cooped up too long has much to answer for; it seems walking stick waving is the newest demonstration of live music appreciation as Cheshire trio Déjà Vega take to the stage. Crooked handles aloft as though a gang of rogue geriatrics have fought their way to the front, a pair of crutches happily dance in the air, bouncing each riff back to the band. Bassist Mike’s left knee wobbles, almost powering their Diiv-like propulsion as singer Jack roams the stage denting a cowbell. There are fewer stomped-out stage patterns as Liverpool’s The Mysterines thrust their metal-lite grunge upon the crowd, but singer Lia’s understated delivery allows her game face and songwriting to do the talking. “It’s always the same, life’s a bitch” she rasps in her hauntingly low register whilst taking out the tension on a battered guitar. Under red light, the band tease further tracks from their forthcoming debut album and show confidence as they embrace their heftier side, choosing to filter out lighter hits from their set like recent single ‘Take Control’.

Now performing as a 6-piece, The Blinders’ familiar opener ‘Gotta Get Through’ launches the expanded collective’s amped-up set, only witnessed so far as a stripped-back Lounge Lizard session. Latest LP Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath is interspersed with old favourites ‘ICB Blues’ and ‘Brave New World,’ with the meatier sound resonating as a band having found their stride. Some intricacies such as the shimmering tambourine of percussionist Paris and added guitar are inevitably lost within the traditional vista, but overall it’s a welcome return. “Shut the fuck up,” frontman Thomas hushes to an over-enthusiastic audience, indicating something important about to happen as the band themselves step away from their instruments, leaving just keys player Johnny to accompany ‘Circle Song’. “I’m thinking, I’m thinking some, how the hero always dies young” is poignant as the lyrics are delivered towards the balcony blurring all else into the background. Picking up pace, a couple twirl each other unsteadily among plastic cups at their feet as the gloomy ‘Black Glass’ moves towards its dramatic climax, and Document bassist Max steps forth on harmonica for a rousing ‘Rat in a Cage’.

Hovering in the wings, Dave Haslam watches on before positioning himself at the decks for the night’s latest DJ set. Earlier, psychedelic scholars Astral Elevator, plus Jason Boardman and Jeff O’Toole took to the helm and now, in his Modern Lovers t-shirt, Dave steps up to flip through his CD wallet having famously bid farewell to his vinyl collection a few years earlier. Turning up the gain on bangers beginning with The Fall and Iggy Pop, a small group of Sunday night pleasure seekers force the venue’s sprung dancefloor to work overtime.

Also hard workers, Chadderton’s Dirty Laces open their own set with intent; “If you’ve not seen us before, you have now” tells singer Charlie, because there’s no time left at the end. “We’re halfway through but have just one song left”, he warns before the band plunge into the early Verve guitar sprawl and classic 70s rock refrains of 7-minute epic ‘You’. Hair now released from its scrunchie and stuck to his face, he steps down to join the front row and makes way for his bandmates’ instrumental outro. Upstairs however, it’s all about Intros. Tonight isn’t a politics party but the bard of Cabbage known as Leon The Pig Farmer is raising his own toast for our musical champion; “So deck the halls with Johnny, make your own hall of fame, make your own Lesser Free Trade Hall, be like John, don’t be the same, so let’s gather the reverb nation, applaud on all four walls, mark my words with appreciation and raise a glass for mister John Hall.”

“Life’s changed dramatically and yet it remains the same” offers Cabbage co-frontman Lee as a long-awaited live welcome whilst teetering on the stage edge. Delivering a high-energy set of delightfully grotesque anthems from latest album Amanita Pantherina including angular songs about Jeremy Corbyn and for the second time this evening, transport-inspired woes (this time it’s trains), a swaggering Leon returns and the band recall their own story of meeting mister Hall during Cabbage’s earlier incarnation. “John spied me, he said ‘You gotta be in a band, what you called?’ His response to the initial band name? “Oooh, do you want some psychedelic drugs?” and The Ritz descends into rapturous laughter and applause.

Leaving the night on perhaps an even bigger high, headliners Peter Hook & The Light briefly lure the man of the moment, or rather, an enthusiastic waving groovy arm, from the balcony for all to see. Cradling his low-slung bass with typically wide power-stance, ‘Hooky’ and co deliver a hefty Joy Division set featuring John’s ‘favourite song’ ‘Novelty’, an electrifying audience sing-along of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and, casting a light from the shadows of a tough year, ‘Atmosphere’ is dedicated to “all those not lucky enough to be here tonight”. But that’s life; it is tough, and the set serves a stark reminder that whilst there will be a time when we no longer see John in the crowd, rest assured our lovable music-lauding laureate will still be around somewhere; perhaps getting a good angle, making more friends from strangers, or even admiring another great pair of socks.


>> Concert For John has raised over £10,000 so far, kick-starting the charity John plans to establish for assisting grassroots musicians at the start of their careers. Current plans include providing free, clean, rehearsal space in Manchester. Check back soon and a link will be added here for how you can support the cause.


AUCKLAND, NZ – LICKS AND LAUGHTER AT THE BETHS’ BIG BREAKFAST

With the honk of a comedy horn, the shot cuts to a wobbly phone camera, led around the room by a hand which is holding a chocolate biscuit and lunging towards the mouths of both audience and band. ‘Snack Cam’ might seem a weird proposition in the real world but this is The Beths’ wildly exuberant cosmos, where sampling local delicacies on tour has become such a habit, that to ignore it would be a glaring omission from their latest set. Welcome to the world of The Beths TV. On Cable. In Stereo.

It is episode 4 of the Auckland band’s monthly House live streams, and their final serving peers out from under the covers of lockdown with one simple premise: good chat, good tunes, and good times. Broadcasting from within the peppermint walls of guitarist Jonathan Pearce’s Tāmaki-makau-rau production studio into the front rooms of the world via YouTube, each 40-minute session is an intimate DIY hangout with The Beths in their natural habitat – and a closer listen to the inner consciousness of vocalist and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes.

“It’s really early,” she tells the 15 or so friends who have gathered before them in the form of an awkward school photo line-up. Viewers at home might disagree; it is 10am Auckland time but 11pm in the UK and that ‘Snack Cam’ biscuit is looking less like elevenses and more like a bedtime bite. In fact their stash of crisps, apples and cake would suggest apocalyptic bunker rather than studio, and a band just as prepared for impending Armageddon as they would be for a midnight feast.

With cables snaked around the floor and all wearing headphones, Liz runs through the script with Jonathan, bassist Benjamin Sinclair on the left, and drummer Tristan Deck in the corner behind her. Together, in their cocoon of makeshift soundproofing from what appears to be a collection of covered mattresses and upturned sofa cushions, The Beths have become their own production crew as the cameras roll on their inverted entertainment show. Observing every angle of the room as the view rotates 360 degrees to show bunches of flowers, bird artwork, various technical stations and special guests, music lovers from across the miles are invited to join the fun and revel in The Beths’ organised chaos, with more than a hint of ‘90s morning TV programme The Big Breakfast.

As the camera pans to the audience grinning and bobbing their heads from side to side, the band strum the cool, breezy riffs of indie-pop opener Dying To Believe with buoyant charm and receive rapturous applause. Taken from The Beth’s new record Jump Rope Gazers on Carpark Records, the follow-up to their 2018 debut LP, the House party doubles as album launch. Treated to a sneak preview of the title-track’s video, stickered with Day-Glo Beth TV icon and live chat over the top like a Beavis and Butthead outtake, the live rendition is dreamy with the more tender touch of Wolf Alice. “It’s very emotional… I’m sorry about that,” apologises Liz, introducing the song before singing through her atypically clenched-teeth whilst the band’s Beach Boys harmonies chime in and a ‘Hot New Track’ gif animation blazes in the top right corner of the screen to indicate a Beths’ exclusive.

In fact harmonies is a hot topic of conversation; between songs The Beths respond to their socially distanced audience’s questions via Callum in the ‘Question Time!’ corner, such as ‘what’s everyone’s favourite breakfast egg’ or ‘where do the harmonies come from?’ “From my brain,” Liz suggests with a smile as laughter erupts around the room, and no doubt, in front of screens worldwide.

As in earlier episodes between chats about Animal Crossing, masking tape, making ginger beer and with spinning pineapple face animations, there are live performances of songs from their first album Future Me Hates Meand the acoustic first House session which aired at the height of lockdown when Liz and Jonathan performed as a duo. Now reunited as a full band with audience, Little Death builds to the early ‘90s lo-fi indie-pop they’ve become known for whilst the hooky Great No One recalls the familiar C86 vibes of The Pastels and the driven jangling Britpop of Echobelly with fresh two-thousands style.

Their set is broken up with more inspired features; ‘Time Zone Check!’ has become a favourite in the chatrooms of their earlier streams and there are even interviews with special guests; Philippa Emery, the artist behind Jump Rope Gazers’ joyfully surreal artwork reveals how nostalgia, relationships and incorporating text into the artwork was integral to her own creative process. The session’s tech team and video producer pals Callum and Annabel of Sports Team, with director of photography Samuel, discuss their film-making method and share how the track’s ‘alien meets girl’ concept came about during a daily recommended lockdown walk. 

With accidental Fight Club style subliminal messaging, the screen occasionally blinks to black with the phrase ‘looking for the phone’ and an illustration of a cat napping only reinforces the band’s motto of nothing but light-hearted quality control, before ‘Snack Cam’ and a banana bitten by many mouths makes one final interruption. “New Zealand is currently completely Covid free, I’m sorry if that stressed you out,” laughs Liz as Ben removes the plectrum stuck to his forehead, ready to satisfy everyone’s appetites once more with their irrepressibly cheerful ‘Uptown Girl.’ “Our new album’s out, we’re really proud of it; a big thanks to the whole universe,” Liz says and raises a glass, as the universe stays turned on, tuned in and ready to pop-rock out.

During the performance, The Beths showed their support for Black Lives Matters; namely the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, which protects and defends the human rights of Black Transgender people in the US and PARS (People at Risk Solutions), an Aotearoa Not for Profit that delivers a range of specialist services to prisoners, released prisoners, deportees from overseas, at risk youths and their whānau. Just The Type joins them in asking that you please check out these important causes and consider donating to them if you can. Thank you.

JOHNNY DREAM: AN OBITUARY – THE BLINDERS AVENGE COLD-BLOODED MURDER

Disappearing as quickly as he appeared to arrive, Johnny Dream was omnipresent in The Blinders’ uprising. Mysterious agitator and alter-ego of the Doncaster-Manchester trio, he was as notorious for his bat-like appearance as his provocative persona.

The only sides anyone knew of Johnny Dream, were those he chose to reveal. To some he’d appear as the man in black; his Joker eyes tarred with melting ink, like evil bleeding from the reaper himself. Others believed him to be The Blinders’ unsummoned hitchhiker; their dark passenger channelling the spirit of Arthur Brown with political activism in his arsenal. Johnny Dream, of his Codeine Scene, age unknown, has been found dead, gunned down between the eyes.

Those avenging Dream’s honour? A trio of urban outlaws from Doncaster by way of Manchester, riding into town with the blistering brocade of new album Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath. Bringing up the rear, Matty “Deadeye” Neale whose demonic thousand-yard stare over a drum skin will paralyze with fear; Charlie “Bruiser” McGough who, it’s said, could draw blood with one almighty axe-wielding swing of his bass, and Thomas “Books” Haywood, whose mind slays with the words of a simple sentence. The Blinders, to give their wanted name, are lawlessly leading Fantasies’ cross-contamination of society’s asylum, in which Mary Magdalene brushes her bare shoulders with vulgar lunatic dictators, dumb fucks and psychopaths, in an unapologetic pursuit of answers.

In his own Columbia, Johnny Dream cried out at corrupt society, a dystopian wasteland where dictators ruled as master manipulators. On Fantasies, The Blinders edge towards a similarly unsettling frontier but this time as ringleaders of their own rodeo. Through an alternate Westworld they’re barging into the saloon and upturning tables; the mirror Dream held up to society now lies shattered amongst the dust as they appear to embrace the bargaining and acceptance stages of grief, and prophesise possible futures beyond Dream’s angry reflections of the present. The universe of Brave New World has expanded to new world order with further damnation of doublespeak, but the biggest threat now is the silence of the underclass as Fantasies lassos the existential and aims from the head as well as the heart.

The blue-collar trudge of ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ is an ode to class struggle whilst ‘Lunatic With A Loaded Gun’ glares at the newspaper headlines and propaganda of Dream’s discourse then flicks a middle finger at broken America and its delusions of grandeur. The ferocious ‘Mule Track’ poses questions of where ultimate power truly lies as it wanders the path of illuminati conspiracy theories with philosophical and religious texts under its arms. Blending fiction with tragic fact, The Blinders run rings around cynics with cyclical imagery, whether through ‘From Nothing To Abundance’s “wheel of Big Ben”, the “Cannonball Mountain” of ‘Black Glass’ or each repeated coda, all a cautionary echolalia of Dream’s mantras that warn of a regretful future where history has repeated itself.

Unswervingly confrontational, Dream’s influence was etched on the faces of audiences who witnessed his bellicose sermons; young guns and old punks alike were all transfixed upon the gothic messiah before them. His outspoken tirades would make them question all they knew. He shook up their existence whilst dividing the congregation before him and stepping out with rallying calls to arms; “Come together we need each other,” he’d summon through Columbia’s ‘Rat In A Cage.’

In the absence of Dream’s rage, his fellow sharpshooters offer an intimate and perhaps more troubled dystopia as outside mob mentality is drawn inwards toward the self. Fantasies is solemn and quashes any notion of becoming a concept with eleven episodic vignettes from the workings of a concerned mind, each reaching a hand outward to offer potential solutions. Unlike Dream’s Columbia, Fantasies favours ‘You’ and ‘I’ which delivers hope at the hands of the individual and eyes of the beholder. And yet, from the inside, comes the inevitable awareness of being trapped by its surrounding walls, allowing inner turmoil to set in. Deeply personal, ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ depicts a toxic relationship turned sour, ‘Rage At The Dying’ and the Starman waltz of ‘Circle Song’ are gut-wrenchingly anxious as they cut to the bone and ‘In This Decade’ closes with wilful acceptance up to its poignant close; “for in this decade there’s no knowing if there’s gonna be a tomorrow.”

With a knack for melody, Johnny Dream favoured fury. Emerging in the spotlight of The Blinders’ debut British Embassy show at SXSW, he channelled “a sound you can truly believe in,” according to event compère and broadcaster Steve Lamacq, yet with that came a short fuse. The fire in his gut was combustible, a fierce energy exploding with every frustration, inciting a melodic tempest to the point of doom-laden destruction.

Fantasies sees The Blinders pause for thought and widen the expanse of their sonic horizons among the vintage furnishings of Stockport’s Eve Studios. ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ and ‘Lunatic With A Loaded Gun’ are torched with Columbia’s blistering threat of Armageddon with the words, “the world’s gonna burn” to the satanic chorus of backing vocals which cut through the grunge of ‘Mule Track’ and disorientating clubby swells of ‘From Nothing To Abundance.’ Only now, the scales are tipped; the atmospheric ‘I Want Gold’ is laced with found sounds which build upon Columbia’s fallen wine bottle field recordings and ‘electric jug’. Pushed and pulled, new ideas bend to the moment they splinter, as strands of twangy distortion unravel with Morricone-esque arrangement and the rusty sounds of jingling prison warden keys and hollow pipes. Percussion and snare shimmer like spurs at their heels, menacing organ drones and bongos drive through warped vinyl; although if Dream was around to have his way, their wicked experimentation would cut through the guitar storm and make Fantasies’ punch even more potent.

Serving up more surprises; fan favourite ‘The Writer’ is left for the cutting room floor and blistering live track ‘Fantasies Of A Stay At Home Psychopath’ is twisted into a sinister spoken word ‘Interlude’ allowing pause for breath. Their final selections show restraint and focus, as the sound has been sharpened like the lines of their funeral-ready suits.

As for Dream’s family, little is known. Preferring to reside in the company of his Codeine Scene, who he is survived by, rumour has it they have taken to a new ranch in Mexico where ravens pick at the skulls of cattle carcasses and Columbia’s heroes Orwell and Huxley hang in the humidity. Fantasies holds its friends as close; with PJ Harvey producer Rob Ellis at the helm, the bluesy ‘I Want Gold’ recalls The Doors’ ‘Riders On The Storm’ whilst turning a wry smile; “they say I can’t have it well I’m gonna get it.” And ‘Rage At The Dying’ is enchanting, like The Last Shadow Puppets leading a bleak procession which passes visceral rock opus ‘Black Glass’ as its tempo shifts from atmospheric to cataclysmic via the ruthless chaos of Sabbath.

If they’re not careful, everything The Blinders represent could lead to their own untimely demise. Should listeners heed their advice and the world eventually begin to heal, The Blinders as we know them will face a similar fate to their departed companion. It’s the world or them. In which case, Fantasies’ acoustic porch song finale ‘In The Decade’ – a bittersweet ballad akin to the freewheelin’ Dylan folk of Haywood’s recent ‘Cotton Eye Joe’ and ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ covers – may hint at plans for their next life. After all, comfort has never been on the cards.

After a failed manhunt, Dream’s killer remains at large but his ruthless agenda remains. Whichever town The Blinders find themselves in next, Fantasies marks the moment they round up a new cavalry and wield their flag with extra all-seeing eyes. Hatches will be battened, babies will cry, and leading liars will scream; only then can justice be done.

Johnny Dream, dissident rogue and alter-ego, born unknown; died 31 December 2019

GLASGOW, UK – A SMASHING TIME AT GLASVEGAS’ BUCKFAST HOUSE PARTY

In these trying times thank Glasvegas for easing any pre-apocalyptic tension. Singer, James Allan and guitarist, Rab Allan are just a couple of songs into their Instagram Live acoustic set and the Buckfast is well and truly flowing. In fact, it’s been knocked for six and the only sound to be heard is that of shattered glass, followed by Rab’s chuckles at his stunned cousin. “It’s because of the glasses!” James exclaims, blaming his shades for the mishap. “It’s a good job we got 5 bottles. It’s such a waste,” he surrenders forlornly whilst around 600 viewers giggle into the glare from their phones.

Acoustic and electric guitars, and a couple of reverb drenched mics at the ready, Scotland’s finest rockabilly romantics are spending their Saturday night in the comfort of strangers; they’ve stopped by the offy for a few carrier bags of their favoured red stuff and taken to their candy-striped couches to perform the evening’s hottest virtual ticket in town – a live set of choice cuts from their back catalogue, stripped back in all its acoustic Glasvegas glory.

This is not your typical House party; there are no cops or kids on scooters churning up their mam’s petunias a la Quadrophenia. The ragers of youth have been replaced with a rather more sophisticated occasion and tonight’s 30-minute set offers a moment of calm amidst the storm. Doused in red lamplight, there is a loungey boudoir feel and angled towards each other, there’s a poignant intimacy (with the air of an empty Twin Peaks Roadhouse) as projections of footage depicting mushroom clouds from atomic testing explode in slow motion and time-lapse cityscapes cascade across back-to-front drawn curtains, seemingly reflecting the fragile moment we’re currently living in.

Opening with fan favourite ‘Flowers & Football Tops’ from their self-titled debut album, it’s in this setting the duo’s vocals and guitar lines shine, each complementing the other from their backing harmonies to what’s become their trademark all-black uniforms. The pair joke with the viewers and discuss the merits of bandmate Paul’s bum and reminisce of times performing on late night TV shows in the US, likening the current situation to that of a ‘Letterman lockdown’ before dedicating ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart (That Makes Me Cry)’ to the TV host. With the camera on landscape, the reception is intermittent as the two hosts are occasionally transformed into outlined blobs, but the stream soon settles and essentially, their haunting reverb resounds as a reminder that each song is suited equally to the living room as performing before a full house at Barrowland. 

Those having caught the pair perform as part of their acoustic tour at Manchester’s Soup Kitchen just before Christmas will remember discussions about forthcoming new album Godspeed – which, whilst James briefly darts out of view to find his capo, Rab assures viewers is on its way. “It’s ironic that it’s taken us about 6 years to finish this new record and now its finally ready, something is saying don’t release this fucking album!” he jokes. “Ah but how long did it take Brian Wilson to release Smile?” asks James reminding everyone that the good will out.

They explain that the album was scheduled for an October release but has been put back “to give it the best chance,” then unleash their new song ‘Keep Me A Space’ – a stand-alone first single because; “it wouldn’t fit the album aesthetically,” and which, they reveal, will precede more single releases this year with the new album release and touring next year. As archive footage showing crowds of people with 70s haircuts walk in slow motion it’s a track that somehow mirrors our stark reality and moves to its own, dreamy, lullaby; its bittersweet melody swinging back and forth before building to a rousing and suitably apt chorus; “nothing lasts forever some people say, all things must pass.”

After a brief early Mother’s Day appreciation message for their mums who are care workers, a fan posts “support the NHS” and the duo move through the remainder of the set with more fan favourites including ‘Geraldine,’ ‘If’, and ‘Daddy’s Gone,’ the latter of which James reveals he has shared a turbulent relationship with. ‘Go Square Go’ and ‘Whitey’ resound as more comments stream in from the right of the screen and the pair closing their set with their revered cover of The Ronettes’ ‘Be My Baby.’ ‘Songs so full of emotion’ offers one viewer. Others might just call it ‘smashing.’

BERLIN & VILNIUS – CHROMATICS AND DESIRE: A STORY OF LOVE AND LUST

Guitar slung over her shoulder, Chromatics’ Ruth Radalet casts an ethereal stare beneath her blonde bangs towards the hip crowd gathered before her. Tonight, surrounded by the retro remnants of a former theatre in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district, she is commanding and holding their attention with hypnotic spells of love and mystery. To her left, synthpop maestro Johnny Jewel nods as his hands dance upon the keys with the fervour of a marionette possessed.

A glamourous retro-future utopia with Desire in tow, the Double Exposure tour marks Chromatics’ first European shows in 6 years. Before both gangs of beautiful misfits take to the stage, the audience is met with what’s been keeping the band busy as a changing backdrop of neon 80s synthwave artwork depicts every release on Johnny’s vast Italians Do It Better label.

With his raven mane, skinny tie and ornamental teardrops on his face, Johnny Jewel is the gothic-indie antithesis to the melodrama of his technicolour world. Playing bass, and synths balanced on flight cases, he’s a Warholesque enigma; ringleader of his own muse-driven vision, yet creator of music that smoulders with emotion. ‘Back From The Grave’ is a pentatonic dream that ascends into a blissed-out groove and ‘Time Rider’ is ignited by its hefty analog vs. digital static as Johnny seats himself at the electric piano.

In Vilnius’ Loftas, Ruth sings with the grace of Nico through the smoggy disco haze of ‘I Can Never Be Myself When You’re Around.’ The pounding heartbeat of ‘I Want Your Love’ throbs like Faithless as it ricochets off the industrial hooks and pulleys of the former factory. Fans of Lynch’s Twin Peaks are treated to ‘Shadow’ as heard on the show and images of flames, smoke, monochrome zig zags and red velvet curtains appear whilst Johnny bobs to the beat with a fan-flung rose between his teeth. “That’s the first flower solo we’ve had,” he grins.

Falling to one knee and bowing to his singer-guitarist, Johnny thanks Ruth before turning his appreciation to the crowd. “Thanks for coming, mind if we play a few more?” Returning for an encore, the audience fall silent for Ruth’s heavenly acoustic solo of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m On Fire,’ and Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill’ is given a Chromatic twist to finish. It’s sass, with pure class.

If Chromatics is love, Desire is lust. Singer, Megan Louise appears to have rolled onto Berlin’s Astra Kulturhaus stage across a slick of liquid tar, standing dominatrix-like in a skin-tight rubber catsuit. The devil to Ruth Radalet’s angel, in Vilnius her uniform is pillar-box red, and both nights’ crowds are met with military marching and waving salutes.

Swapping the glass of red she’s holding to pick up a classic telephone, she spirals its wire around her fingers and delivers lyrics down the receiver. “This is for lovers and future lovers,” Megan tells, before launching into the Drive film favourite ‘Keep Me Under Your Spell,’ and a rousing cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle.’ On keys, partner Johnny and the sunglasses-wearing Heaven, close with a synth duel and hold the fuzz to a swell that could rip the venue in two.

NEW YORK – PENNSYLVANIA, USA – FONTAINES D.C. STORM THE EAST COAST

“I wanted real adventure to happen to myself. But real adventures, I reflected, do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

James Joyce – An Encounter, Dubliners

The eyeballs of Fontaines D.C.’s Grian Chatten are fixed towards the ceiling. You can hardly blame him. It’s a typical November night in Brooklyn – in September. Just days before, Hurricane Dorian was hugging the south-eastern coastline and nudging ever closer to New York City; its path an unpredictable whirlwind leaving only chaos and destruction behind. All day, the Music Hall of Williamsburg has been hammered by inclement showers and bracing gusts so tonight, as the Dublin 5-piece take to its stage, there’s a very real threat of “tearing down the plaster”  as Grian delivers ‘Hurricane Laughter’; stoking the storm’s eye with their turbulent tones and enough stabs of sonic distortion to leave Mother Nature herself recoiling in its wake.

It’s the opening night of Fontaines D.C.’s month-long, debut North American headline tour and the next phase of the band’s explosive trajectory. Following an emergency culling of their festival appearances since returning to the UK after a momentous SXSW in Austin, Texas and the release of their Mercury-nominated debut album Dogrel, they’re now reaping the benefits of having had a brief well-earned rest. As the thick brogue of Luke Kelly delivering his poem ‘For What Died The Sons Of Róisín?’ resounds through the speakers, the band are called to the stage and with a simple “Good to see you,” tonight’s sold out crowd brace themselves for lashings of frenetic noise that ricochets off every bolthole.

Whipping the congregation into a frenzy through an aggravated release of poetic sermons, Grian blesses each audience member with his gaze and as the tension mounts, they become euphoric. Geeing up the crowd, he wrings his wrists and paces back and forth with controlled convulsions. ‘Too Real’ sees a schizophrenic transformation in the pit from appreciative to cataclysmic, as the mass surge to the left. Phones are hung on to* and stances widened as Grian dons a Peaky Blinders style flat cap likening him to a Victorian baker boy in his shirt-slacks combo. Meanwhile, guitarist Carlos O’Connell launches himself into the crowd; kick-starting a domino effect of fans hurling themselves off the stage and riding a wave into the shadows.

The lone stage-diver repeating such behaviour in Philadelphia the following evening could only hope for such a smooth ride. Part-way between a diner for locals and intimate burlesque theatre with its low red lighting and wooden interior, the second night’s venue is Johnny Brenda’s. Sitting in Fishtown on the corner of a bustling intersection, the city’s Saturday night suburb is neon lit like a 50s film noir. Opposite, late night coffee is being served at Joe’s where the din of the venue’s groups of men drinking into the early hours carries across the street. Commotion and layers of half-conversations spill on to the sidewalk, fuelled by one, two or perhaps even five rounds of Boilermakers.

Upstairs the band have jumbled the previous night’s setlist and as they take to the venue’s corner stage, Grian greets the sea of faces at his feet and those scrutinising from the surrounding balcony with an awkward wave. At the rear of the stage hangs a velvet curtain, strung with what seems to be the clear plastic crystals from a cheap jewellery box, and the room is doused in UV light. Opening with ‘Television Screen,’ it’s an energised set; from the atmospherics of Carlos working the amp, extorting its feedback with each swing of his guitar and beer bottle string sliding, to the hefty punk beat laid down by drummer Tom Coll and Conor Deegan’s thundering bass. Tugging at his baggy stripes, Grian jerks as though to shake off any shred of lingering self-doubt and it’s intense, like watching a band fighting to escape the confines of a matchbox.

As ‘Liberty Belle’ rings out for what could be the city’s adopted anthem (the bell itself, a symbol of Philadelphia), a rogue reveller hugs the monitor at Grian’s feet and struggles with it as he crawls up on to the stage. Predicting what comes next, guitarist Conor Curley is on standby; wearing his white cowboy shirt with fringing and halfway holding out a hand to assist, he’s like Frankie Avalon in Grease’s ‘Beauty School Drop-out’ dream sequence coming to the rescue, until it’s too late. Rising from his knees, the unexpected visitor hurls himself across the room, head-first into the tiny venue’s supporting pillar – taking Grian’s microphone out in the process. The interruption is over as quickly as it begins and apart from a crafty lyrical edit nodding to the fact it happened, the band power on through.

The rest of the set is seamless; the blue hue pulses with the strobe effect of a Stranger Things electrical warning and the band are on fire. Whether over-compensating from the effects of a late night prior, or simply finding their stride, tonight is just better. Everything is wound tighter and cranked up a gear higher. Rubbing his face, banging his chest and dipping his hands deeper into his pockets as if to awaken himself, Grian’s pacing is most noticeable when contrasted by the band’s statuesque shredding. The most affecting moment is ‘Roy’s Tune’; a tender performance showing a band who can do beauty as well as they do brawn. ‘The Lotts’ is suitably gloomy, its spiralling 80s melancholia haunting through beautifully smoggy refrains and Grian breaks out the tambourine for electrifying new song ‘Televised Mind’ – a ferocious cyclone of rhythmic unravelling with dizzying wads of Orwellian dread.

Moving from one skyline to another, the Fontaines D.C. storm is ready to wreak havoc on its next location; both nights’ sets are just under the hour offering a short, sharp, shock from a rising band who pack one hell of a punch. Or to quote Philadelphia’s revered local hero Rocky Balboa, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows…” but therein lies a damn good place to start.  

*Not mine. It’s still in Brooklyn… somewhere. Big thanks to my gigging partner-in-crime, Denise, for sharing her pics!

AUSTIN, TEXAS – SXSW 2019: 10 TOP SETS

Returning from SXSW there’s only ever one question; ‘which band was the best?’ After taking some time to reflect (and sleep!) it’s without doubt, this year, the charge was led by British bands… so instead of choosing the best acts of the week, here’s 10 killer sets from around the world that made this year’s trip to “The Lone Star State” so great…

Amyl and the Sniffers – Thrasher x Vans: Death Match @ Weather Up

There’s a storm brewing at Weather Up. On the edge of town, a good ten blocks from the downtown action, chaos has erupted and the pit of colliding human-sized atoms bouncing off each other are being rewarded for their eneavour to one of South-by’s most easterly venues. Call it rage, a tantrum or simple flip out, singer Amy Taylor knows how to summon a storm. Her bandmates create a relentless tirade of 110mph rapturous punk-rock as ignited by the spirit of Johnny Ramone and swilled down with a vodka-infused Gatorade chaser. Yelping in her Aussie twang, “I’m not a loser!” Amy grins as she sings with a mischievous glint in the eye. There’s some chat about poppers, the moshing becomes a scrappy swirl, dust clouds tan the revellers and just like Debbi Harry with the sass and savvy of a guttersnipe alley cat, she launches herself upon the crowd and rides their arms on one giant wave of enthusiasm – a solid celebration from the newest queen of punk-rock, positioning this band as the best kind of SXS-mess.

Ratboys – Stereogum Range Life @ Cheer Up Charlies (Outdoor Stage)

They say you can take a band from its hometown but can’t take the hometown out of the band. And as the clouds gather above the swinging canopy which is gradually picking up momentum over Cheer Up Charlie’s outdoor stage you can’t help but think, from their on-stage attire, Chicago’s Ratboys are right to be tuned to the climes of their Windy City. Standing centre-stage, singer Julia Steiner occasionally glances up to the sky from under the fold of her Chicago Bears beanie and seemingly gives a few knowing smiles to partner-in-rhyme Dave Sagan and the Ratboys live band, before they launch into a rollicking set of honest songs about toxic friendships and taxing relationships from their latest GL (Good Luck) EP. Emitting sweetness through summery strumming, gauzy choruses swell from alt country undertones and offer a hit of serotonin through the grey of the day; fresh, like the packs of free Stereogum gum being handed around the crowd.

Art d’Ecco – Desert Daze + Ritual Events @ Hotel Vegas (Inside Stage)

Apostrophe placement has been a hot topic this week. From The Beths’ Jonathan Pearce talking about spelling of ‘y’all’ to Liverpool’s Her’s declaring at the Brooklyn Vegan party they “know it’s grammatically wrong, but don’t care.” Fellow apostrophe rogues Art d’Ecco are a figment of Lynchian subconscious and the most glamorous of punk-rock dreams. Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the Hotel Vegas back room is dwarfed by their super-sized Bolan-esque tones and spiky starboy synths. Hook-laden stompers brim with Patrick Wolf pop majesty, Gossip shimmer and Public Access TV indie rock sensibility. That the singer looks immaculate with a raven bob framing porcelain sky-high cheek bones, bold colour to the eyes and lips, and is sporting a shimmering jacket kissed by the mauve and pink hues of the dive bar lighting, whilst three of the most dapper suited and booted band members sway to the beat, makes it all the the better. No-nonsense, just genuinely danceable, straight-up glamorous indie rock n roll with the biggest of hearts. Like being given a naughty VIP pass, the entire room is enticed to join the party in their nostalgic but forward-facing world.

Mike Krol – Hipster Robots Suck @ The Side Bar (Outdoor Stage)

Rocking back and forth in his Elvis t-shirt with one foot on the drum kit, Mike Krol is taking care of business. It’s a good job; most of the crowd who’ve gathered around this DIY backyard stage – complete with monitors on patio furniture – have been awake just a few hours and what they need is a shot of driven and raw garage-grunge adrenaline. Surrounded by band, Mike leans forward in his shades and pulls himself up, holding balance before dropping back off and pacing the stage. A sermon of his sharp take on the world through scratchy Strokes-tinged yelps, Mike tambourine-bashes like he’s secretly powering the band through each track; if he stops, they stop and together they clatter through songs from latest album Power Chords. ‘What’s the Rhythm’ is a highlight, enticing the sun from behind the clouds and transforming the yard into a blazing hot sun trap, keeping it all very cool but igniting a fire for his SXSW debut. “I tend to avoid SX like the plague,” he says, “but I don’t know why. This is a lot of fun.”

Durand Jones & The Indications – Ticketmaster Showcase @ Stubbs BBQ

When ‘screaming eagle of soul’ Charles Bradley passed away he left a James Brown wail-sized hole in the lives of many soul fans. Durand Jones & The Indications might not be able to fill it, but they’re doing their damndest to try. As the sun sets over Austin’s famous outdoor venue, the crowd are hit with the talent of the 7 musicians before them. Durand can hold a breath-defying note to challenge the sustained chords of the organ and his voice effortlessly soars to sooth the most jaded of South-by souls. On ‘Is It Any Wonder?’ the drummer’s time travel-inducing falsetto harks back to a golden age of smoke-filled jazz clubs and just like a tight family unit raised in Daptone’s House of Soul, the skills of each member are given chance to shine. Stepping back into the spotlight after a stint on saxophone, Durand takes the mic and gestures to The Indications’ trumpet player; “we like to play a game,” he tells the crowd, before trying to catch her out in an improvised contest of call-and-response. Fans of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson or Nick Waterhouse will recognise the band as vintage soul enthusiasts rather than revivalists; a fresh young band who can take a pause as well as they can throw a party.

Dreamer Boy – Vinyl Me, Please: Rising @ Empire Control Room

“Do you wanna go to Nashville?” asks one Zach Taylor, donning his Stetson and grinning before navigating the edge of the stage and joining the clumps of crowd in front of him. Tonight, wherever we find ourselves; his hometown or Austin, the true destination is more complex. Better known to friends as Dreamer Boy, his mellow chillwave is befitting of the stage name as it filters through the speakers and laps upon glitchy Bieberesque r’n’b pop. Singing and flexing wibbly auto-tune alongside synths from right-hand man and Love, nostalgia collaborator Bobby, this stripped-back dive bar set is that of a DIY bedroom set-up, yet Zach’s showmanship shines as he weaves about huddles of curious cats, serenading them with teenage love songs on the right side of awkwardness and sweetness. Wherever we are or wherever we’re heading, this set is one wild trip.

Emerson Snowe – International Day Showcase @ Austin Convention Centre

You’ve got to hand it to Jarrod Mahon, even when presented with the most sterile of spaces, under his Emerson Snowe moniker, he is a pure entertainer. Stood with guitar in hand and only a backing-track for company, he sweetly delivers dreamy nursery rhyme pop to ‘Ballroom G’s rows of chairs, and their occasional occupier. Majestic swan song ‘If I Die, Then I Die’ is a glittery waltz wrapped in a smog of Lemon Twigs splendour and sensitive synth ballad ‘Could You Love Me?’ sees Jarrod showing off his best sides to the cameras transmitting his image across multiple screens surrounding the stage. It’s a tricky set for the Brisbane songwriter but in his world, if the party doesn’t come to him, he’ll take the party to them; when not strumming his guitar, he sings whilst climbing and hanging from the rigging and ducking under the TV monitors, before leaping off, strolling down the aisle, and leaving those in their seats to serenade unsuspecting delegates in the foyer outside.  

The Wants – Quit Your Day Job @ Cheer Up Charlie’s (Indoor Stage)

It’s early days for this Brooklyn 3-piece who’ve been infiltrating the city’s subterranean scene and gradually causing a buzz with the defiant, murky sound of their own rhythmic underworld. Tonight, with an extra member in tow, an unexpectedly short 20-minute set proves only one mission; to leave the crowd wanting more. A clue in the name, perhaps? ‘Ape Trap’ and ‘Clearly A Crisis’ possess the stark art-pop bounce of Franz Ferdinand with the stop-start stomp of Gang of Four, and the bobbing heads of a packed crowd pick up speed as the tracks gain momentum. The set is mostly industrial doom-laden post-punk and danceable guitar grooves powered by throbbing basslines and singer Madison Velding-VanDam’s monotone, interspersed with a side helping of anxiousness and melancholia. The brevity of the set might hint at a lack in material but could only mean one thing; more good things to come.

Avalanche Party / The Blinders – End of Trail Records @ Valhalla

A special moment in the trajectory of Avalanche Party and The Blinders’ careers to date, SXSW was always going to be more British invasion than pilgrimage. A billing featuring both acts would only result in the deepest of war wounds and a trail of destruction left in its wake. Punked-up poets, each perform solid sets, erupting with a blistering and unapologetic gut-punch of monumental proportions. Yet, it’s the surprise collaboration between the two, in tribute to The Amazing Snakeheads’ recently passed Dale Barclay, which is pivotal and emotional. Performing a rousing ‘Memories’ from Dale and his band’s Amphetamine Ballads album, Avalanche Party frontman Jordan, typically bare-chested and sweat-clad after an impassioned performance from within the crowd, is joined by The Blinders’ singer Thomas who swigs from his Lone Star and positions himself at a second mic. Together, the band stir up the Snakeheads’ distinctive stoned groove, and a cacophonic sound erupts, unravelling into bittersweet scenes of beautiful disarray. Dale would be proud.

Fontaines D.C. – DIY Magazine @ Swan Dive (Patio)

“My childhood was small, but I’m gonna be big,” intones singer Grian on frantic post-punk number, ‘Big’ before pacing the stage and shaking his wrists with pent-up energy. Taken literally, it’d be a bold prediction for the Dubliners; building a buzz at the world’s largest music event, particularly with an unreleased debut LP, is no mean feat; there’s stiff competition. But putting similar confidence into their set, the Fontaines frontman roams his invisible cage and surveys the faces surrounding the band. ‘Boys In The Better Land’ is ferocious and the 5-piece hammer through each track with vigour. Through the band’s relentless commotion their usual nonchalance is, tonight, injected with restless spirit; guitarist Carlos stands tall on the speakers, hunched under corrugated awning whilst bandmate Conor shreds his strings with a cig gently resting in his lips. Wearing a baggy pinstripe shirt, Grian’s resemblance to Ian Curtis is evident as he clutches at the mic before adding to the band’s racket with a tambourine in hand, moving their position from big prediction to big premonition.

Honourable mentions (in no particular order): Blushh, Illuminati Hotties, Sharkmuffin, Odonis Odonis, Sneaks, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Cherry Glazerr, TC Superstar, The Beths, Squid, Black Midi, Thyla, Black Belt Eagle Scout, Madeleine Kenney, Viagra Boys, Dylan Cartlidge, Murray A. Lightburn, Anteros, Whenyoung, Samia, Bedouine, Trudy and the Romance, The Texas Gentlemen, Fatherson, The Mystery Lights, Oh Sees, GRÜN WASSER, Sports Team, Gabriella Cohen, Fruit Tones, Her’s, Sweet Spirit…