Gig Review: Skinny Lister, 3rd May, Nottingham & 4th May, Cambridge, 2017 @SkinnyLister

Skinny Lister – Devil Heart Fight Tour with Support from AJJ band

Rescue Rooms – Nottingham 03-05-17 and The Junction – Cambridge 04-05-17

Written by Martin Tillyer, Photos by Martin Tillyer, Edited by Fi Stimpson.

The first time I saw and heard Skinny Lister was as support for Frank Turner along with Will Varley in November 2015 at Rock City – these artists are all on the Xtra Mile Recordings label.

Since that date, I have also had the pleasure of seeing them headlining on the first part of the Devil Heart Fight tour in 2016 and then as support for the Dropkick Murphys in London in January 2017.

As soon as the dates for this year’s UK tour were announced I ordered tickets for both of the shows being reviewed here, from this you can gather that yes I do like their music and I also had an idea what to expect from them.

The support – The AJJ Band from America – were new to me, having only seen one video clip on YouTube. “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” comes over as a very quirky American pop type track. I have to say that having now seen them live they are so much more than that.

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The Rescue Room gig was sold out and the room was nearly full for the AJJ set, some of crowd had obviously seen them before and knew what their shows were like.

As they came out it was obvious that there was kit sharing going on as the drummer was using Skinny Lister’s kit. I think that this was a good thing as they are then not forced to be cramped up onto a stage and left with no room to move and also allows for a quicker change over between bands, some of the more well-known bands should perhaps take note of this.

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AJJ are touring as a four-piece band and start off with “Cody’s Theme”, the first track on their latest album “The Bible 2” which soon had the crowd moving around. They then played through a mixture of back catalogue and new songs that varied in pace, the slower numbers having the crowd listening to the thoughtful lyrics which showed the band’s observations on life. They are definitely a tight band and have the audience hooked; the energy they show is highlighted near the end of the set with the singer doing forward rolls around the stage. Anyone that likes Will Varley and Beans on Toast would definitely enjoy this and I know I will go to see them on their next tour.

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The room fills up to capacity as we wait for Skinny Lister to come on with most having already seen them before; it was good to see people in the crowd that we had met previously at the Bodega gig last October, it feels like a big friendly party is about to start and it does with as they come onto stage to start off with “Wanted“ the first track off Devil Heart Fight, a real upbeat punchy number. They then proceed in the usual Skinny Lister party mode through tracks take from all of their Album releases with the majority of them from Devil Heart Fight (9), Down on Deptford Broadway (7) and Forge and Flagon (6).

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Mid set they fitted in a new song “Thing Like That” which still has the typical Skinny punch too it, could well get to be a crowd favourite once more people know the lyrics.

There is a variance in pace as they slow down for some very soulful vocals from Lorna on tracks like “Bonny Away” sounding reminiscent of Sandy Denny.

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Skinny Lister certainly entertain with a flagon of rum passed out among the audience (sad to say that the Flagon had disappeared at the end of the night).

Party George, Lorna and Max’s dad, was in the crowd and Lorna set off to see him going crowd surfing in a dress, she certainly is one very brave lady.

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Scott Milsom the double bass player is certainly fitting in well having replaced Michael Camino – although I will miss his crowd surfing with the double bass.

They ended up with a three-track encore “Beat it from the chest”, “Hamburg Drunk” and “Six whiskies”, a track that should be played at the end of the night in any pub (it is on the playlist in my local).

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It was interesting to go to The Junction 2 in Cambridge to see both bands the following night to see if they could party just as hard, this gig wasn’t sold out, this was possibly because of the band Alabama 3 playing in The Junction 1 next door.

Both bands produced sets that were of the same excellent quality as the night before with some variance in the setlist order. Skinny Lister had to resort to sending a bottle of rum into the audience due to the replacement flagon they had obtained needing to be cleaned out before it can be used.

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The Skinny Lister audience is growing and I think they will soon be having to tour in larger venues, take your chance to see them in these smaller more intimate ones whilst you still can.

Both bands are very approachable and always spend time talking to the audience after the show, helping out with the merchandise sales and signing CD covers

Skinny Lister are a really hard working band and will be appearing at various festivals over the summer and continuing the Devil Heart Fight tour into Europe later in the year.

They are definitely worth seeing live – go to see them if you get the chance.

http://www.skinnylister.com/

Interview & Gig Review: Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors, Cambridge, 2nd March 2017

I met with Ryan Hamilton on 2nd March 2017 before his gig at The Portland Arms, Cambridge to chat about his current tour and the new album Devil’s in the Detail.

Hi, Ryan. Good to see you again. So, what brings you to these shores?

We wanted to tour over here again after last year ended up in such a good place for us. Ginger Wildheart kinda scooped us up and said “I love this band” and once we got that kinda stamp of approval it seems like the sky’s the limit. So we did a new album and we knew it was gonna come out in February and we wanted to do a tour, but we wanted to do something different because I knew there was going to be a lot of press around the new album with things like radio station visits. So what we did is this acoustic thing where some of the shows are a full band (like tonight) and some are just me and some are me and my piano player friend Carol. Between all that we’ve got the radio station visits, a lot of promotional stuff for the album. So that’s why we’re here, it’s been just the best. Tonight and one more show in London – the album launch, which is sold out.

We saw you at the Portland Arms last July with Ginger Wildheart – how did your liaison with him come about and how did you find him to work with?

Ginger was at a party with some friends and they were doing a thing where they were playing new music and someone said “you gotta listen to this guy!” and put one of my songs on. The story goes – Ginger stopped and was like “hold on” and got lost in the song. He enjoyed it enough to really pay attention for 3 minutes – it’s just that thing that never happens anymore, he messaged and said “I love your band, I want you to go on tour with me” and I didn’t know him before at all. I wish more people were like that. If I get to keep on doing this I will try and do as much as I can – I hope to be that way.

What other projects have you done in the past before getting together with The Traitors?

I was in a band called Smile Smile who were a fairly big deal in America and Canada, but we never made it in the UK. I was in that band with my fiancée at the time. We had a moderately successful single on the radio, we had our first tour with a tour bus… and then she cheated on me. She then brought the guy on tour – this was all public knowledge and in the news back home. It was terrible, but it kinda fuelled that band even more – it was this mental thing where I was like “I’m living my dream but I hate this”. After we got home, she moved out of our house and in with the dude. I started writing these really dramatic songs about what she did to me and email them to her. Her response was not to get upset or anything (she’s very strange) – she wrote a piano part and sent it back, kinda like a middle finger to me. That turned into an album’s worth of material – I never thought it would be an album but I kept sending them and she kept sending them back. That album to date is the most successful thing I’ve ever done, even though The Traitors are creeping up fast.

In between, I was in a band called People on Vacation with Jaret Reddick who sings in Bowling for Soup. As much fun as that band was to be in, it basically taught me everything I didn’t want to be in music. It was full of managers and the typical music industry douchebags that I just loathe – greed, lying, cheating, all of that. It was like watching a movie and thinking “are these real people?”. My band mates in The Traitors were in that band with me, so when I made my exit I said to them “you’ve seen this too, stick with me please” – and they did. I’m fairly sure I did ok.

How did you arrive at the band name?

We’re all big Star Wars fans and The Force Awakens with the Storm Trooper who ends up being a good guy but they think he’s a bad guy. We had been throwing names around, Mickey and Rob had done one tour as The Traitors but it was kind of like an inside joke, then the Star Wars thing happened and the t-shirts saying traitor with helmet and bloody hand print were everywhere, and after everything with People on Vacation I left saying “I’m doing what I want, you don’t tell me what to do” so the traitor thing really rang true and it made sense.

What or who has inspired you to play the way that you do?

All the people you probably expect. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, I love David Bowie. Anyone who did things their way, figured it out on their own and no matter what happened they didn’t deter, they stuck with their vision and believed in themselves and something inside them knew “this is what I’m gonna do and you’re not gonna tell me any different”. So those people – Andy Warhol, too – they were brave enough in themselves and they just decided they were going to be successful whether it took a year or 20 years. I’ve always loved music but didn’t learn to play guitar until my early 20s. A lot of my friends and acquaintances in this business started playing when they were teenagers in a high school band, so that was extra motivation for me as I was a late starter.

So what did you want to do before that?

I didn’t really know. I was a terrible teenager with drugs, alcohol, partying… I went to university to study advertising and marketing, I thought that was cool but I always really, really loved music. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until I decided I wanted to do music, I was just kinda lost. A lot of people go through the motions and never really figure out what they want to do – they just end up at a job and I guess I was never programmed that way.

Your new album Devil’s in the Detail was released on Valentine’s Day on your own label Fannypack Records – how has that gone down?

Very well – it cracked the top 40 on the UK iTunes chart, got to number 39 which I’ll take every time. I make this joke though – people say “I’m number 1 on iTunes!” but you can actually change it where you keep going down the categories and then take a screen shot where it looks like you’re number 1 but it’s on contemporary, classical, Spanish spoken word – but you’re still number 1! So good for you, I guess! But our album is selling really well and we’re doing everything ourselves and we don’t need to ask permission – we just do it.

So tell me about your experiences with record labels before setting up your own?

Just the worst and the same story you hear time and time again, you’re just so excited to be signing to a record label and my first band signed to one that had a lot of money and a lot of big promises, and at the time I thought it was the best thing ever. I got a house that I couldn’t afford a year after and it was just ridiculous. You have this idea about what it’s going to be but really you’re just signing this big bank loan and hopefully you pay it all back. Thankfully, that band did well but I never made any money. Really all I ever did was pay people back which sucks. And they still own my songs – to the point where I can’t even go and re-record them, they own them for a really long time and it would involve getting a lawyer. They see something as a product that they can make money from and they made plenty.

Who are the other guys in your band – they came across as very seasoned players.

I didn’t know them before People on Vacation – Jaret and I started the band, we had the opportunity to tour the UK. Jaret knew Rob (I didn’t), Rob knew Mickey who was doing drum lessons at the time. Mickey did really well in the music business in his late teens/early 20s in a hair metal band but it never quite got as big as he wanted. He then got married, had 2 kids and made a great life for himself. 10 years went by and Rob called him asking if he wanted to play drums for this band, so he’s getting a second chance that not many people get. He’s a great dad, but now he gets to finally do the thing that he almost got to do. I didn’t really know the dudes until Jarret reached out to Rob, who contacted Mickey, we ended up in a room rehearsing then went on tour over here.

What are the highlights of your career with The Traitors so far? Do any particular gigs stand out for you? Who else have you shared a stage with?

Some of my favourite shows ever are a couple on that Ginger tour, just because it was a new audience for us. We knew we’d have a handful of people who knew us but Ginger’s audience is very Ginger-y – you know what I mean? They’re there to see Ginger, so we knew that if we could win that crowd over they’d be very loyal. We loved playing for that crowd because they’re music lovers and appreciators. They aren’t just there to say “we were at the Ginger show”, they’re there to hear the music and have an experience. So on that tour the Glasgow show, the London show and here at the Portland Arms were good ones – I remember that show because I passed out that night, I was sitting here and Ginger was here – there was a portable fan, Ginger put the fan right in front of me, took his shirt off and was wafting the air, it was very strange because he was shirtless – but what a sweet man.

Other than that, we did our first tour as this band under just my name. We got to the first show in Edinburgh and it was sold out – we were like “holy shit!” – I will never forget that one, people were singing these brand new solo songs and it was very satisfying. Just like anything, you want to get to the next level at your job so for me it just feels like a promotion.

So, how does this all fit in with family life?

Well, I met my wife in Newcastle – she’s a Geordie girl. I didn’t even know what a Geordie girl was, someone should have given me a handbook! I think because I’ve been through so much shit and made all kinds of terrible decisions with substances and women and whatever else, it took somebody as challenging as my wife – entertaining is probably the word. It doesn’t hurt that she’s beautiful, way out of my league – I still look at her sometimes and think “Really? Good for you!” But I don’t have the urge to have kids and Holly doesn’t either – maybe that will change, but right now it’s way too easy to go on tour so we just go.

Has anyone come over here with you?

My parents are here! They’ve seen me go through Smile Smile and everything else. I keep telling them “seriously, things are happening in the UK” so come and see for yourselves! So they flew over for the last few shows and it’s cool to have them here.

What’s next for you guys?

So now it’s been 2 years since starting over, re-establishing after pissing all the industry people off… but now we’re at the point where we’re selling out medium sized shows over here. Tomorrow is a big venue in London which sold out pretty quick.

Here’s something else people don’t think about. You can break down my life by the size of vehicles I’ve toured in. So, at first it was an SUV, then a van in the Smile Smile days then a tour bus. Then I was back in a van with People on Vacation then back on a bus again. Then that ended. We were then back over here in a rental car for a house party tour, then back up to a van – we’re in a little larger van now, a nice van and we’re doing a tour over here later this year back on a bus. [Fi – so next – your own plane?? Ryan laughs]

Well, thank you for chatting to me – have a great show tonight and I hope the London show goes really well, too!

Thanks, this was fun!

Gig review…

This was the penultimate gig on Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors’ acoustic tour. Last time Ryan was at The Portland Arms, it was to support Ginger Wildheart and was a tightly packed crowd. This time, there was a group of dedicated followers up front and interested parties dotted around the rest of the venue. Sadly not sold out, but a lovely atmosphere nevertheless.

First up was Danny Gruff, an acoustic singer-songwriter with a great sense of humour – he had the crowd laughing, doing dance moves (yes, even us photographers did as we were told), singing and bantering throughout his set. A genuine delight – hoping to see him again.

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Next on stage was Chrissy Barnacle, who hails from Glasgow. She also features on Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors’ new album in the form of backing vocals. An inspired choice as support, when I was chatting to her before the gig, she described her music as “evil freak folk”. I was intrigued, to say the least. She didn’t disappoint – her lyrics are honest and sometimes scathingly so.

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Her voice is unique (although reminds me a little of Joanna Newsome in places) and her guitar playing is mesmerising – she’s a very talented young lady and loves what she does. Her stories about the songs are amusing and make her very personable. She also wasn’t deterred when a couple was heavily making out stage left – she gave a wry, knowing smile and then got on with what she was there to do. A true professional. I’d love to see her again.

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The headline act finally made their way to the stage, to suitably approving cheers from a very happy crowd! In comparison to last time I saw them, this was a more relaxed set with an additional chat between songs from Ryan and great banter with the crowd. Ryan and The Traitors are so at ease playing together, even making a joke after playing one of their tunes for the first time in a while and getting it a bit wrong. This band are so down to earth – although they’re popular, they don’t have the massive ego some bands have which makes you feel like you’re truly with friends.

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Highlights of the show for me were the delightfully uplifting Be Kind, Rewind, new songs We Should Never Have Moved to L.A., Heavy Heart and old favourite Ode to the Idiots. All of the new songs go down really well – indeed, a lot of the crowd know them already which is a great sign – people have been buying the album! Result!

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Ryan is very anti-bullying following a bad experience of his own where he was targeted online by one man who had a vendetta of him. He supports the Ditch the Label charity and it was great to hear him talk about it during the gig – he really wants people to know there is always someone you can turn to. He finished by saying that if you feel you have no-one else you can send him an email and talk to him. He’s a wonderfully kind man who has got through his own personal battles and wants to help others who need it. This very much comes through in his songs, too – what a great message for people who are struggling for their own personal battles.

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If you’ve not heard of Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors yet, then now is the time. They are touring again in the UK later in 2017. Buy their music. Get tickets. You won’t regret it.

Gig Review: Teleman, The Junction, Cambridge, 26th October 2016 @Telemanmusic @moshimoshimusic @LunacreHQ @CambJunction

Last time I saw Teleman, it was at the Portland Arms in Cambridge. We were so close to the band, it was like a gig in my own front room. Since then, I’ve been hankering after seeing them again so jumped at the chance when they announced their gig at The Junction. This time, Music vs the World Junior joined me because she was mightily disgruntled at missing out last time…! I was more than happy to take her along – not many 13 year olds have such good taste in music!

Support act Lunacre set the tone for the evening with their unique, experimental electronic style. Deftly knocking out the tunes with incredible attention to detail, they are so focussed that they almost seem to forget the audience is there!

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They’ve only been doing their thing for a year, but these guys have a propitious future ahead of them if they carry on like this – I highly recommend seeing them before they make it so big that you can’t get close enough!

Anyway, I digress. Teleman take to a bigger stage and a considerably larger audience like fish to water, their stagecraft professionalism rising to the occasion. The bigger PA sound system and production, as well as some monumental lighting and astounding smoke effects enhance and add dimension to their songs.

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There was a mixed bag of punters – old, young kids, drop outs, students and weirdos, all of whom were absolutely enthralled whilst listening to the band. I did note that despite the ages of individuals, this was a very serious crowd and one that is difficult to pigeonhole.

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Once again the thing that struck me was the degree of “control” and subtlety that these guys have with their music, never appearing to lose their steadiness or at times hypnotic preciseness that they have with their songs. Seasoned and steady, they have clearly been doing this very well with much skilful accomplishment for quite some time (I refer you specifically to previous guise of some of the band, Pete and the Pirates).

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MVTW Junior was suitably impressed with the whole evening, never taking her eyes off the band and singing along with all her heart. Anyone who can make such an impact on that particular teenager is onto something! It was also her first experience of being starstruck whilst meeting a band – she was practically bouncing out of there afterwards, and declared that they are “very lovely people”!

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I heard not ONE error in their performance, nothing seemed out of place, or if it was they could conceal and distract. Anthemic and majestic, the new material shines brightly. If anything, the lack of intimacy and the larger expanse of space between band members in this venue enhances their pristine and almost at times mathematical approach they take with their music.

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I already can’t wait until the next time…!

Gig Review: The Divine Comedy at The Junction, Cambridge, 20th October 2016 @divinecomedyhq @lisaoneillmusic @cambjunction

At 5pm on a dreary Thursday evening, I received a message telling me that I had been added to the guest list with a photo pass for The Divine Comedy that very evening. A few panicked moments of organising childcare ensued, and I was then on the road to Cambridge to photograph one of my favourite ever bands! My car was filled with a frisson of excitement for the next hour and 15 minutes.

On arrival, The Junction was already pretty full, and it was very apparent that every person there felt exactly as I did.

Support act Lisa O’Neill was the perfect opener to The Divine Comedy.

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With her far-fetched tales (including one where she ended up making Irish stew for Elvis Presley), and her voice that made me imagine she only consumes the most luxurious chocolate and nothing else, she impressed, captivated and tickled the fancy of her audience.

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She was utterly delightful, and nicely set the tone for what was to come.

Setlist:

The Galway Shawl

Nasty

Elvis, I Give You Irish Stew

Pothole in the Sky

Planets

Sparkle

The time soon arrived for Neil Hannon and his band of quirky men to grace the stage. Hannon’s droll wit was immediately evident, just as I had hoped.

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I have always listened to The Divine Comedy’s intricate, classy tunes with fondness. To witness them live was beyond what I could have expected. Their fresh, lively compositions speaking of romance, laced with comedy and regaling the history of 18th century Russia both entertain and charm the audience in equal measure.

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Hannon himself is the ever-present member of the band when others have come and gone. He is the design behind the output. He may be small of stature, but he is superhuman in personality. Without his intelligent, odd, gentlemanly, mischievous, sincere, kooky ways, there would be no such music in the world.

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That evening, I was enchanted, bedazzled and fascinated, and left wanting more… there is no better sign of a great gig than that!

Setlist:

Down in the Street Below

Assume the Perpendicular

Bad Ambassador

Bang Goes the Knighthood

The Complete Banker

Generation Sex

Our Mutual Friend

Alfie (Cilla Black cover)

The Certainty of Chance

Sweden

How Can You Leave Me on My Own

To the Rescue

Count Grassi’s Passage Over Piedmont

The Frog Princess

A Lady of a Certain Age

Catherine the Great

Funny Peculiar (with Lisa O’Neill)

At the Indie Disco

Something for the Weekend

Becoming More Like Alfie

I Like

National Express

Encore:

Absent Friends

Songs of Love

Tonight We Fly

Gig Review: @WilkoJohnson at @CambridgeCornEx , 14th October 2016

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There’s very little I can say about a Wilko Johnson gig that hasn’t already been said in the majority of reviews. We all know he’s returned from the brink, against all the odds, and is still going strong. We all know what an incredible musician and songwriter he is, both with Dr Feelgood and as a solo artist. We all know that his loyal band members Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe have been chosen because they are faultless, have impressive stage presence and are exciting to listen to. I don’t really need to tell you any of that though, do I.

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Sometimes, though, even knowing all of the details like those above can’t prepare you for attending a gig which culminates in everything being resolved in your mind, where you feel perfectly relaxed to be yourself and like you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.

First off, he selected a wonderful support act in the shape of Aaron Keylock, a young Blues Prog Rock guitarist and singer with his trusty bassist and drummer by his side.

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I was blown away by this guy – he is seriously worth checking out. Here’s his new single “Against the Grain”:

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Wilko with his wild duck walk, wild eyes and even wilder guitar playing, Norman’s bass solos that make you shiver both inside and out and Howe’s bombastic, full-bodied beat tightly melded together to form a musical force that got people rising from their seats to move every muscle, pore and follicle. A good old boogie-woogie to classic blues and rock n’ roll, and all is right with the world.

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Video by Alien Outback on YouTube:

Until next time, “Bye Bye…”!

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Gig Review: Ginger Wildheart, The Portland Arms, 20th July 2016.

The Portland Arms is the size of the average person’s sitting room and to see such bombastic rock n’ roll this close up and personal is a rare opportunity indeed. It’s like watching these people in their rehearsal rooms. Literally three feet between us and the players. This is exactly how one should experience a rock band. In this scenario, the musicians cannot hide behind big PA production and sound systems, and the calibre of their ability and skill is raw and naked. I can quite honestly say that this is my favourite venue of 2016.

Massive Wagons are a band we’d never encountered before. They smashed their way onto the stage and went on to prove themselves as being for real. Lead singer Baz reminds us of a supercharged King Ecbert from Vikings. Deftly wielding his mike stand like some kind of war weapon, it’s a miracle he didn’t take out the guitarist to his left, such was the confinement of area on stage. We would like to hear their album and know their tunes so that next time we encounter these boys there is more familiarity.

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When Ryan Hamilton and The Traitors took to the stage, we both did a double take; the bass player looks like Kurt Cobain, the keyboard player like a young Axl Rose and Ryan himself was more Dylan than Bob. However, that’s where comparisons ended. We were presented with a distinctly American sounding set of very mature material, extremely polished and clearly well gigged. Mr Hamilton had an incredible rapport with the audience, with jocular references to quaint English swearwords in-between swigs from a full bottle of Merlot. Again, we’d like to hear their recordings.

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Ginger Wildheart is an enigma. With a veritable plethora of projects, albums and line-ups over the past 26 years, this man is armed to the fucking teeth with great songs. At a guess, there are in excess of 400 numbers to choose from. We were treated to a delectable set cherry picked from Silver Ginger 5, Ginger’s solo work and, of course, The Wildhearts. It makes you wonder how this guy chooses his tunes, and the joy of it is that you never know what you’re going to get. Ginger is no stranger to the art of mixing it up.

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The venue was hotter than the black hole of Calcutta, and it looked like it had been raining sweat across the stage. At times, the band looked grimly focused, but not entirely comfortable with the heat.

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Highlights of the set for me were “This is Only a Problem”, “Top of the World” and the warming inclusion of “Geordie in Wonderland”.

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The band seemed eager to get off stage and cool down after such a heroic performance. Ginger vanished into thin air, but the last we saw of his band were the three of them heading in the direction of the kebab shop across the road in search of Kofta. A genial, intimate night.

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Words by Richard Mackman

Photos by Fi Stimpson

Gig Review: The Ghost Riders in the Sky at Voodoo Lounge, Stamford, 27th May 2016

It was with great anticipation that I headed down to my favourite home town venue on Friday. I was to see a band relatively new to me but who I was very excited by; The Ghost Riders in the Sky.

First on stage were a band from Cambridge called Meet Me At Dawn. As soon as they graced the stage, I spotted that bass wielding Ross was sporting a Pink Floyd t-shirt – good taste, that man!

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An excellent choice of opener, Meet Me At Dawn launched into a set of punk-rock tunes, deep lyrics in abundance and a heavy hint of Green Day’s style. I was impressed, and made sure to tell them post-gig. I’d love to see them in their home town as I can imagine they pull a great crowd in!

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Meet Me At Dawn’s self-titled EP is available now on Bandcamp, and their new single “Heartless” is out soon in all the usual places.

Next up were Cambridgeshire based Phoenix Calling – I’d heard very good things about them, but never had the chance to see them. They supported Young Guns on their recent UK tour, been featured by Johnny Doom on Kerrang! radio, and have headlined regional festivals such as The Willow Fest, reportedly going down a storm!

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What immediately struck me was their unbridled energy – vocalist Steve was all over the stage; getting photos of him was a challenge, but one that I enjoyed immensely! What these guys did particularly well was get the (albeit small) audience on side – the room suddenly filled with joy when they performed their mash-up of I’m Yours, One Love and Prince of Bel Air – anyone who can make a Jason Mraz song sound good has my vote!

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Powerful, compelling tunes are what makes up Phoenix Calling’s set. They somehow manage to compress warmth, intensity and fun into one package. The band’s rapport is genuine and heart-warming, and their passion for what they do is palpable.

You can buy their album “Forget Your Ghosts” here and see them live at various shows up and down the country, including a very recently announced gig on 2nd July at Festival Too supporting The Vamps!

Finally, the band I had been so looking forward to seeing, The Ghost Riders in the Sky, crept almost nervously onto the stage.

When I first stumbled upon them, the fact that their band name was taken from a Johnny Cash song had not gone unnoticed – I figure that anyone who likes his work is onto a good thing. I then learned that the band is the brainchild of former Gallows guitarist Steph Carter (brother Frank was also in Gallows – you may also associate him more recently with The Rattlesnakes…) and my interest increased a fair few notches!

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Fronted by singer Gillian, who I heard someone describe as a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Hermione Grainger, and with the band on an equal pegging looks-wise, this was to be a gig with something for everyone in the eye candy stakes, at the very least!

It may have been the sum of being shattered after a hard week at work + insomnia + out of work “stuff” + a few beers = a hypnotised state, but I doubt I’d have felt quite so mesmerised if some shoddy pop group or mediocre covers band had been in attendance. From the very first note, I felt as hooked on the music as the band looked.

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Every song was gracefully delivered, each note eloquently pronounced, and whenever I looked at a different member of the band they were fully immersed in what they were doing – I doubt that even an earthquake at 9.5 on the Richter scale could have stopped them playing.

Gillian has got a cracking voice – in places, she reminded me of Suzanne Vega, and at one point I thought of Maria McKee when singing “If Love is a Red Dress”. Beautiful, and matched perfectly to the both the searing rock music and that with a more sympathetic, tender feel.

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Carter describes their genre as British Americana, and having witnessed it live that makes complete sense. It’s a definite departure from his work with Gallows – it’s not so deliberate that it feels forced, though, and therefore has a natural honesty to it that is very attractive.

In essence, The Ghost Riders in the Sky brought another world to Stamford that night. I have no doubt that they are absolutely made for bigger things, but conversely they suit this venue perfectly – I just wish more people had been there to witness this phenomenal evening!

New single “Wastelands” is out now – have a listen…

You can buy (in Gillian’s words, not mine) “t-shirts and vinyls and CDs and bullshit and bullshit” here – I bought “The Death of Everything New” album on vinyl, and am waiting for some time alone when I can be fully engrossed in it.

New favourite band? I think so!

Gig Review: @Telemanmusic & @Oscar_Scheller at @ThePortlandArms , Cambridge, 9th April 2016 #Teleman #MusicIsEverything

Teleman, The Portland Arms, Cambridge, 9th April 2016

I had been waiting for the opportunity to see Teleman for two years (almost to the day!), since I first heard “23 Floors Up” on BBC 6 Music in April 2014. The fact that the opportunity came in the form of a photo pass for their gig at an unusual, delightful local venue almost floored me. I was ecstatic that I could finally see one of my favourite new bands, whose debut album “Breakfast” is virtually perfect and who have just released album number two, “Brilliant Sanity”, which is definitely giving the first a run for its money!

Up first was the perfectly matched support act, Oscar, whose music is elevating and striking. Oscar Scheller delivers his rich, sonorous bounty with a swagger and a seemingly everlasting grin. Reassuringly warm guitars couple with a deep sincerity conveyed in the meld of melancholy and rapture, and the entire set was sprinkled with conversational drum beats, to the point bass sounds and tantalising keyboard effects. Blissful.

At last, it was time for Teleman. Setting their own gear up, they took approximately a nano-second to arrive on stage for the start of the gig, which was quite surreal. I was elated that I was seeing a quality band in such a tiny venue.

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There was a discerning, largely mature crowd present (apart from the young teens standing next to me with their parents – after a lengthy chat with them, I came to the conclusion they were possibly the band’s biggest fans!), entirely composed of genuine music lovers who were extremely vocal in their appreciation from start to finish.

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The configuration of the audience is no surprise when you really feel the sense of advancement with this band. They have a confidence that you generally find in bands who have been around much longer – these guys are serious about what they do, there is absolutely no denying that.

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From the get-go, Teleman were tight, together and perfectly locked into each other’s musicality. There was an almost magical, intimate wash of gentle sound and pastel colours throughout their live performance that brought to mind the incredible paintings of Georges Seurat.

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Teleman didn’t waver once during the entire set, which was composed of their well-known and much-loved songs such as Cristina (during which the band’s devotees caused a moment of amusement by getting a bit over-zealous with the lyrics when the baton was passed to them!), 23 Floors Up and Steam Train Girl alongside tunes from their new album, with the distinctly breath-taking songs Glory Hallelujah, Tangerine and Fall in Time among others.

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My companion last night is someone who knows what it’s like to be in bands and to tour extensively. He was equally as enthralled as I was for the evening, commenting that it’s an incredible skill to have the restraint that Teleman show in their music, holding back from letting the songs run away with them and still keeping the listeners hanging onto every note and word. This, to me, is particularly true because singer Thomas Sanders doesn’t quite engage with the band’s onlookers, but it just goes to show it’s the music that reaches out and not banter.

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Shrouded in something akin to a Valium haze, the gig was full to overflowing with lilting, hypnotic moments of dream-like joy. I departed afterwards feeling completely content and lifted following an evening of sublime live music.

Set list:

Strange Combinations

Skeleton Dance

Brilliant Sanity

23 Floors Up

English Architecture

Tangerine

Cristina

Fall in Time

Drop Out

Glory Hallelujah

Steam Train Girl

Encore:

Dusseldorf

No control

Gig Review: @JohnWGrant at @CambridgeCornEx , 3rd Feb 2016 #MusicIsEverything

I love it when I’m able to arrive early at concert venues. I like looking at the empty space and having a vision of it filled with sound and body heat. Last night was one of those times, being one of the first through the doors and enjoying everyone else ambling in at an incredibly leisurely pace.

The stage was set – keyboards galore on stage right, bass set up at the rear next to the beautiful sparkly drum kit, guitar pedals stage left and a sole microphone stand in the centre. A little shiver of anticipation went down my spine – not for the first time that day, either.

Looking back to the entrance and upwards to the ceiling, I noted the beauty of the inner building structure, almost like an upturned ship, and imagined the swelling of voices and beautiful music hitting the highest rafters and travelling around the entire room.

I felt so much more than ready for what I had expected for a long time to be an unforgettable and emotional show.

When the lights dimmed and a bespectacled, distinctively dressed young lady called Sóley walked onto the stage with just a guitar and a keyboard for company, I don’t think anyone knew what to expect. She was tentative, awkward almost, in her self-introduction, and so sweetly spoken that I could almost taste sugar on my own tongue.

She shyly began to sing, and it was like the twinkling of stars on a perfectly clear night. She immediately captured the audience, and not one person was making a sound – I don’t think anyone even breathed for the entirety of that first tune.

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Sóley seemed eminently surprised by this show of politeness towards her and interest in her, and seemed lost for words at the appreciative applause she received. On she went, singing song after beautiful song, programming sounds on stage, wowing us with her almost whispered honeycomb vocals and amusing us with her self-deprecating humour.

This was the perfect start to the evening, and I sincerely hope I hear more of her in times to come.

Then it was time. A moment I had been waiting for, it seemed, since my time in this life began. I listen to his CDs at home and in the car, and feel indescribable emotions when I hear his lyrics and music, but now, finally, I was to see the man himself in the flesh, in this very room. It was to be HIS voice journeying upwards to that stunning ceiling and bouncing back down to pleasure my ears.

Out came the band, shortly afterwards followed by John Grant, who wandered over to the microphone and pressed gently into one of his newest songs, “Geraldine”, displaying regret alongside clarity within his impeccable, note perfect voice.

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A side to side shift of the hips and a wave at the crowd later, we were treated to “Down Here” and “Grey Tickles” from the new album, delivered affectionately and sensitively to an awe-inspired crowd who, if anything like me, felt like they were being wrapped in cotton wool and set free with knowledge at the same time.

“Marz” and “It Doesn’t Matter to Him” are two of my favourite songs by John Grant, and to hear them live merely cemented that fact. Majestic vocals of a giant filling the room with lyrics so tender, gently humorous, sometimes so scathing and honest and always with a raw, ruined passion and always full of heart. This is a closeness not often experienced at a gig – it felt like everyone in that room was grasping it with both hands and holding on forever.

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If you hadn’t heard John Grant’s music before and this had been your first time, you’d be forgiven for being slightly surprised at the change in pace which was to happen next.

Bathed in lights of red, blue and white, an anxious pulse began, like a slow rave. It was one notch away from being deafening, and the all-encompassing dreamlike state button had been firmly pressed. From “Pale Green Ghosts” to “Slug Snacks” to “Guess How I Know”, I felt like I was having an out of body experience, and it was unexpectedly glorious.

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From the Dr Who like sounds, the body shaking and the possibly ironic, but hopefully not, sexy dancing, the big smiles and the rosy cheeks… to songs where between each note sung and played you could hear pins drop. The resplendent “Glacier”, the heartbreakingly truthful “Queen of Denmark” and “GMF” are, for me, songs that transcend all, and touch me to the very deepest parts of my being. I lost it at this point. I was in the music, and didn’t care what else happened – if the world around me ended there and then, I doubt I would have noticed, so immersed I was in this splendid music.

The set ended with “Disappointing”, which for me gets better every time I hear it. I did find myself wondering if Tracey Thorn would surprise us with her presence, but it wasn’t to be – not that it mattered, it’s an absolute delight of a song.

We knew we would get more – as is standard, the lights were still off and the roadies were doing their best to fake tidying up – and more is what we got! More pounding, reverberating in the throat and chest funky bass in “Voodoo Doll”, more acerbic words in “You and Him” (the ultimate example of a subtle hate song), more alternative hopefulness in “No More Tangles” and more of an insight into John Grant’s difficult roots in “Drug or Caramel”.

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I cannot end my review without talking about John Grant’s obvious and genuine gratitude towards his audience. At the end, after the whole band took their much deserved bow, he spotted someone sitting in the balcony, stretched out his arms and shrugged as if to say “I can’t understand why these people are here for me”. That was a beautiful thing indeed – he’s a man with no apparent ego, and who clearly feels absolute joy at performing for people who are at one with his music. That in itself charms people and makes them want for more.

On leaving the venue, I couldn’t help but glance around the concert hall and smile at the part it had to play in the night’s entertainment – the perfect acoustics with the performer to match, neither of which ask for anything in return, but instead hopes for its audience to visit again one day. And visit we will, John Grant – that is a promise.