Kula Shaker University of Norwich – Live Review

Kula Shaker @ University of Norwich, 5th December 2016

Kula Shaker are touring to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their classic album ‘K’, released in 1996. Whenever bands start to look back on their career there is always the worry that they have become curators of their own legacy rather than a creative force in their own right, and that was the worry I had walking into the same venue in Norwich where they had played twenty years before.

This is not to say that the band is now solely concerned with their past: in February they released ‘K 2.0’, very much in the same raga rock vein as their earlier album and intended as a companion piece. They say the new record came about by reflecting back on ‘K’, and on the progress they have made since, reimagining old songs from a more mature perspective. That was also what the band would need to do on stage, to justify touring a twenty-year-old album.

Looking at the faces in the packed room it seemed likely that many of the same fans that had been in attendance the last time, were here again. Not having experienced ‘K’ the first time around I didn’t share the same nostalgia of many in the room, meaning that for me the gig would have to stand on its own merits.

After an opening cover of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band charmingly repurposed as Kula Shaker’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, lead singer Crispian Mills put my initial concerns to rest, wryly wheeling a record player on stage and announcing that they were here to play ‘K’ in full. The band soon got on to the matter in hand and blitzed through the first few tracks, infecting the whole room with their youthful energy, albeit with the assuredness of a band that has been honing their craft for the past two decades. Mill’s virtuosity was in full evidence, toying with these familiar songs, not content to give the fans what they could get simply from listening the record.

Aside from playing through the album, the set list was peppered with offcuts and B-sides, with Under the Hammer – a song about the hardships of a young band struggling to get any gigs – being a particular highlight. New songs 33 Crows and Infinite more than stood up to the older material and it was very encouraging to see that they haven’t lost their touch for penning their particular brand of psych-pop tunes.

All members of the band were clearly enjoying themselves, the familiar songs providing a solid base for experimenting. Playing through the second side of the album, trading solos on 303 and Start All Over, they galvanized the positivity in the room for biggest hit Hush – anthemic and catchy this got the entire room chanting along, caught up in the moment.

By the encore I had been thoroughly convinced by a band that, far from looking backwards, wanted to propel their classic material into the present. Their willingness to experiment made the album feel less like a museum piece and more like an ongoing musical project, and as they left the stage, I was cheering just as loudly as the fans who had experienced Kula Shaker twenty years before.

Hand Of Stabs – Pagan Experimentalists of the Medway Sound


Hand Of Stabs - Seasonally Effected, live performance in RochesterHand Of StabsSeasonally Effected, live performance in Rochester, 30th November, 2016

On Wednesday, I took a trip into Rochester to witness Seasonally Effected, an irregular event held in the Medway Towns to promote local artists. This event took place at Dot Cafe in Rochester High Street. By the time I arrived, the small venue was packed with welcoming and friendly people. Hot chocolate replaced alcohol between acts, who each in turn stepped forward from the audience, performed and returned to their seats, promoting participation over separation and the essence of the original punk ideal – ‘anyone can get up and do this’. This is a shared experience. Though essentially, I’m not the only one who has been drawn to the event by tonight’s headline act, Hand Of Stabs.

With no fuss or delay the threesome pass the performance poet as they take to the front of the gathering while event organiser and musician Roy Smith stands to deliver a few announcements – other local events and that Seasonally Effected will be taking a short break after tonight.

Hand Of Stabs take their name from a cult fantasy children’s tv series, Ace Of Wands from the early 1970s. While American kids grew up watching Sesame Street and the Banana Splits, British children were subjected to some heavy shit. Ace Of Wands takes its name from a tarot card. The main character in the series ‘Tarot’ combines stage magic with supernatural powers. Think Adventure Time meets Paul Daniels. This is weird
The music emanating from Hand Of Stabs is experimental, avant-garde, anti-pop. Or as Stuart Maconie more pretentiously defines it, “progressive pagan skiffle”. No, I’m not sure Maconie knows what that is, either.

Hand Of Stabs are a three-piece that combine conventional instruments with the non-conventional, in every sense of the word. Tonight they mainly play electric guitar, percussion in the form of a drum-frame (something of middle-eastern origin akin to a large tamborine), and the spokes of an electrified bicycle wheel (with various effect pedals including pitchshifter and delay) beautifully played with a cello bow. According to their Bandcamp page, they go by the names of: Capt. Rex Standish (guitar), James Worse (percussion), Jocelyn Von Bergdorff (wheel).

As far as I can gather, each Hand Of Stabs performance is extemporaneous and completely improvised. Tonight’s performance lasted for approximately 40 minutes. Though I was so engrossed and moved, I cannot be sure. Like the accompanying film score to a gothic horror or a psychological thriller, the music is absorbing, dark, chilling and full of suspense and mind-thoughtfulness. It is indeed, quite possibly pagan. But there is absolutely no trace of Lonnie Donnegan or any association with skiffle.

I had seen Hand Of Stabs once before. They played, against their better judgement, and were lost amongst four other bands presenting a colourful spectrum of popular music in a sweltering venue pouring pints of piss-weak lager. That night belonged to Lupen Crook and The Parade who peaked with songs of love and hope. But tonight and the future of Pagan Experimentalism and the Medway Sound, belongs solely to Hand Of Stabs.

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Billy Bragg & Joe Henry @ The Marlowe Theatre, CanterburyOn a day when it seemed the world had gone mad and America (well, around a quarter of Americans) elected a racist, sexist, homophobic self-publicist to be their next President, what better way to soothe the soul than to spend a couple of hours in the company of one of the UK’s most outspoken socio-political commentators?

Billy Bragg is touring the country with Joe Henry, the American singer-songwriter he met in New York 30 years ago where they bonded over a shared love of Woody Guthrie, Hank Williams and Leadbelly. Tonight they’re at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre – deep in Kentish pro-Brexit country – with their collection of US railroad songs collated and recorded during a 2,700-mile train ride from Chicago to Los Angeles.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Bragg live over the years – Red Wedge, Artists Against Apartheid, Glastonbury’s Left Field Stage – and tonight I took along my 22-year-old daughter. Also a huge Bragg fan, I’d found her crumpled on the sofa in tears at 5.30am that morning, unable to believe that Trump had beaten Clinton to the White House. She was hoping to hear Help Save the Youth of America amongst tracks from the pair’s ‘Shine a Light’ album, and she wasn’t disappointed (though even that brought a tear to her eye).

Bragg’s inevitable commentary on the day’s events was surprisingly optimistic. He returned to the stage alone after the interval to profess that the majority of Americans didn’t want Trump any more than most Brits wanted Brexit – and neither result should be viewed as an indictment of such.

Cue ‘Between the Wars’, followed by ‘Help Save the Youth of America’ and ‘Accident Waiting to Happen’, before a topical cover Anais Mitchell’s ‘Why We Build the Wall’ and the unifying anthem ‘There is Power in a Union’.

Bragg was on form tonight, admitting he and Henry were wired after a day spent soaking up election news and declaring himself “genre fluid”. Tonight’s audience certainly seemed to confirm the fact that he can’t be pigeon-holed – an eclectic mix of teenagers, forty-somethings and comfy shoe-clad folk fans.

So what of the material we’d really come to see? Bragg’s love of Woody Guthrie is well documented with his Wilco collaborations – beautiful arrangements of songs such as ‘California Stars’ and ‘Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key’.

But this collection is more stripped-down, the only connection between the songs being references to the great American railroad. The Carter Family’s ‘Railroading on the Great Divide’ and Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Rock Island Line’ share a stage with Hank Williams’ ‘Lonesome Whistle’ and Guthrie’s ‘Hobo’s Lullaby’.

The pair’s voices make a comfortable mix, although Bragg’s baritone efforts on a couple of numbers seem almost comedic, and their warm on-stage exchanges ensure the evening strolls along at a gentle pace.

The stories are as entertaining as the music – especially the one about the train line on the Mexican border where the towns on either side of the track appear decades apart.

John Hartford’s ‘Gentle on my Mind’, a 60s hit for Glen Campbell, is a touching encore and Bragg leaves us with the mantra “Don’t moan – organise”, emphasising the strength and power of community.

An uplifting end to a demoralising day.

Kula Shaker Play K for UK Dates

Kula Shaker
Kula Shaker

It’s been 20 years since Kula Shaker exploded into the UK Britpop Scene with their million selling debut album K.  Their brand of esoteric psychedelic pop rock, full of Eastern mysticism made them one the most unique (often termed eccentric) of the Brit Pop bands in the 1990s.

This year Kula Shaker are back together playing intense live performances as witnessed at the Roundhouse earlier this year.  Govinda sung entirely in Sanskrit and the only Sanskrit top 10 UK single ever,  is still chanted by the crowds that attend the shows.  Tattva, Hey Dude, through to the hit single Hush are all great songs that still sound as fresh today, 20 years on.

Further celebrations for the 20th Anniversary of the ‘K’ album will see the band performing ‘K’ in its entirety, alongside songs from the rest of their four albums, on their UK December tour.

Kula Shaker UK dates:

1 December   OXFORD, Academy

5 December   NORWICH, UEA

6 December   GUILDFORD, G Live

8 December   LONDON, Forum

9 December   LONDON, Forum

10 December   MANCHESTER, Albert Hall

11 December   BIRMINGHAM, Institute

13 December   BRISTOL, Academy

14 December   LIVERPOOL, Academy

15 December   NEWCASTLE, Academy

17 December   LEEDS, Academy

18 December   GLASGOW, O2 ABC

For tickets visit:  http://www.kulashaker.co.uk/

The Damned UK Tour to Celebrate 40th Anniversary of New Rose

The Damned @ the Royal Albert Hall 20th May 2016
The Damned @ the Royal Albert Hall 20th May 2016 by Dod Morrison Photography

The Damned have announced a tour taking in more than twenty towns and cities across the UK to celebrate the 40th anniversary since the release of the first punk single, ‘New Rose’

Celebrated as the most entertaining of the original punk bands, The Damned were the very first British band to release a punk single (their mighty debut “New Rose”, released on 22nd October 1976), the first to release an album (1977’s ‘Damned Damned Damned’) and also the first to tour America. From the very first moment they started playing live in tiny punk clubs in 1976, The Damned quickly gained a reputation as a band who would always deliver an accomplished live set.

To cap their incredible 40th Anniversary year, which has already seen the band play a memorable set at Coachella Festival, where The LA Times raved; “The Damned’s no-future UK punk thrash sounded gritty and immediate” and Rolling Stone claimed their set as ‘One Of The “20 Best Things We Saw” and also deliver a blistering three-hour show at a completely sold-out London Royal Albert Hall in the summer, The Damned will play across the UK this winter on dates listed below where they will be playing their legendary debut album ‘Damned Damned Damned’ in full, plus a career-spanning retrospective set.

The Damned are currently recording a new studio album, with exclusive merchandise and experiences available to pre-order now via Pledge Music.

Following a new film documentary on The Damned, ‘Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead’, directed by Wes Orshoski (Lemmy), released in 2015 to much acclaim, BMG Music will release a new 40th anniversary ‘Art Of The Album’ CD, digital & heavyweight vinyl LP special-edition of the band’s classic debut album, ‘Damned Damned Damned,’ complete with extensive new sleeve notes, in February 2017.

Always unforgettable, The Damned continue to wave the flag for originality, stick two fingers up to mediocrity and celebrate a DIY punk ethos in the face of plastic entertainment and scripted reality. Original members David Vanian and Captain Sensible never expected to still be doing it 40 years later, but here they are in town for one night only, as their loyal following will attest, all simply because they are still an incredible live band who sound as fresh and exciting as they did way back in 1976.

See The Damned live through November and December on the dates below. Tickets are available from The Damned website.

The Damned UK Live Dates

12 Leamington Spa, The Assembly
13 Nottingham, Rock City
15 Guildford, G-Live
16 Wrexham, William Aston Hall
17 Leeds, 02 Academy
18 Manchester, Academy
19 Newcastle, 02 Academy
20 Glasgow, 02 ABC
22 Cambridge, Junction
23 Norwich, Waterfront
24 Brighton, Dome
25 Gillingham, Britannia Theatre
26 London, 02 Brixton Academy
27 Cardiff, Tramshed
29 Wolverhampton, Civic Hall
30 Bristol, Motion

1 Portsmouth, Pyramids Centre
2 Weymouth, Pavilions
3 Plymouth, University (Main Hall)
4 Exeter, Phoenix Centre
9 Margate, Winter Gardens