Trust Fund, Swearwolves – Chatham Riverside – 28th August 2016

I’m pretty sure this is the closest gig to home that I’ve paid to get into. It’s certainly my first one at the Riverside One Studios next to Chatham bus station. Chuck in a top-notch band, and a mere fiver to get in, and we were definitely onto a winner.

I do find it reassuring when, during a pre-match pint, the main band wander in to the same pub. It confirms that I’m in the right area, I’ve managed to get there on the right day and that the gig will more than likely be going ahead. Not all of these have happened on previous days.

The privilege of being the first band to play a Community Centre Presents gig here were Swearwolves, consisting of one person singing and playing bass: not something I’ve seen before.

Probably fair to say the songs weren’t overwhelmingly upbeat but, as much of life isn’t, this seemed fair enough. As a Dad of a couple of young people, who seem to be under much more pressure than I was at that age, I can empathise with the angst being displayed. Also, I always admire solo artists – there’s nowhere to hide if things go askew. It’s just you and whatever you can think of to defuse the situation and move on.

The night’s main attraction though were Bristol’s Trust Fund and I couldn’t help but wonder what had persuaded them to troop down to Medway on a Sunday evening. (I found out later that they like playing towns and venues they haven’t been to before, which is an admirable line to follow).

Trust Fund @ Riverside One (28.8.16)

A man lighter than their recent Indietracks appearance, during which Ellis appeared strangely distracted, they were on top form, although the fairly intimate setting did lend it rather more of an air of rehearsal room than  seething mosh-pit. Well, it was Sunday evening.

Dan is always worth keeping an eye on, unlike many drummers. He wandered off during a song where he wasn’t needed very much, disappearing through a door at the side, returning in time to join in when required. He also played while flat on the floor for one song.

I love the approach to their songs which aren’t your usual verse/chorus standards and some of the newer songs are more of bursts of ideas, than fully-formed 3-minute stories but it all sounded wonderful. Shades of early Supergrass and bags of energy and enthusiasm, coupled with a tight performance gave Community Centre Presents a night they should be proud of. And well done to those people who turned out to see it.

rust Fund @ Riverside One (28.8.16)

A really successful opening night and I really hope they do many more like this. People were invited to write down who else they’d like to see play in Medway and it’ll be very interesting to see who they get along next time from the mixture of suggestions. Hint: Peaness or Young Romance would be just dandy, if you want my view, folks. Not too many people in either band (it’s a small venue) and both are at about the right stage of their careers where they might consider it. Oh, and both are excellent, of course!

Pop South Festival, Glasgow – Sunday 14th February 2016

After a stomp up to the hill in Queen’s Park in the morning to look out across the city to the snow-covered hills to wake up, back to the Glad Café we went to spend more time shut in a dark room.

Catenary Wires - (c) Robin Halls
Catenary Wires - (c) Robin Halls

Bill Botting (aka Two Drink Minimum) and his sister Hannah were on first with a bunch of gentle acoustic songs including his Christmas song, perfect with snow in the air. They were reinforced halfway through by bass and second guitar, to flesh out the sound. As guitar was from Paul Rains, they were close to sounding like Allo Darlin, especially with Hannah singing solo. Which was nice.

Paul made his escape in good time to hot foot it back over to Edinburgh, where Tigercats and Chorusgirl were continuing their tour that evening.

More laid back songs came from Two White Cranes, whose Radisson Blue album, I’ve been listening to for a while. Not all of this lights my wick but certainly enough of it to enjoy Roxy’s set a lot. Her powerful and clear voice is simply lovely to listen to and the guitar sound she gets is wonderful.

Catenary Wires continued the laid back feel to the day and Rob pulling up a chair so he could play guitar just seemed somehow appropriate. I’ve always adored Amelia’s voice and they played all the songs from their debut CD, as well as one or two new ones, which are reassuringly in the same relaxed and unremittingly downbeat vein. Upbeat and optimistic these songs are not and more power to them for being so.

Duglas T. Stewart - (c) Robin Halls
Duglas T. Stewart - (c) Robin Halls

I didn’t recognise Gordon MacIntyre under his beard but as soon as he started to sing, any doubts of it being an imposter disappeared. Although seemingly pestered by the ghost of Darren Hayman, resulting in a couple of false starts, he gave us a great set, with a few ballboy songs for good measure.

I don’t get the chance to see him perform anywhere near often enough so this was a welcome opportunity for which I was appropriately grateful.

Douglas T. Stewart from BMX Bandits did a ‘solo’ spot, accompanied by a few friends. Not knowing anything about him, I had no idea what to expect. Having seen him I’m still not totally sure how to describe it or what I thought!

Coming across as more than a bit Radio 2, with close harmony singing from his chums, they took a turn for the more surreal by covering an Ivor Cutler song. Not something I’ve experienced before but a whole-hearted thumbs up from me all round.

I’d not really clicked with Pete Astor before but his set was really good. About halfway through, it just sort of fell into place for me. Maybe it was the beer kicking in, maybe it was knowing we were reluctantly running out of time, or maybe it’s just because Pete writes good songs and performs them really well. Probably a combination of all of these.

Regardless, it was a great way to end a fabulous weekend. Thanks to Pop South for putting this on and thanks to Glad Café for hosting us all. A perfect remedy for the mid-winter blues.

Pete Astor - (c) Robin Halls
Pete Astor - (c) Robin Halls

Pop South Festival Glasgow – Saturday 13th February 2016

Occasional Flickers, a band name to make every poster maker think carefully about the fonts used to advertise their gigs, had a stand-up drummer and beards-a-go-go, although they paid the price of being first on as there were barely more people watching than performing. Veering from vaguely akin to Veronica Falls to something altogether more jangly, they reinforced the unwritten rule that every band first on each day mustn’t be too challenging for any lurking hungover souls. The disappointing sight of what appeared to be a “man-bun”, lost them a couple of points but there were extremely considerate regarding time management, as they were keen not to run out of songs before their slot was up, something they managed admirably.

Milky Wimpshake - (c) Robin Halls
Milky Wimpshake - (c) Robin Halls

Thirty minutes spent in the company of Milky Wimpshake will always be a worthwhile investment.

They were utterly professional throughout and rattled off a selection of new and old songs, accompanied by Sophie on vocals for the newer ones – something that works rather well. It might just be me, but I always take delight in listening out for mentions of Gormenghast in the lyrics and it makes me smile when it does. One day, I’ll get round to asking Pete just how many there are.

I’d always been meaning to explore MJ Hibbert and the Validators, as I’ve liked what I’ve heard and in our house the Christmas album gets dug out each year, to add that year’s new track to and to brighten up a generally over-rated time of year.

I really enjoyed them. Having one band member standing at the side of the stage with a pile of cardboard sheets to use as props bode well for later on and so it proved, guiding us through things to do before you’re thirty. Sadly, I

seem to have missed a fair few and am too late to catch up. As many of the songs were, appropriately enough, about getting older, I did allow myself an ironic smirk that I was watching them while drinking a mug of tea and celebrating reaching my half-century.

Mammoth Penguins finished off the first half of the day in fine style, allowing us to catch up with what Emma’s been up to lately. There’s a harder edge here, compared to other recent outings I’ve witnessed and her voice shows

no sign of losing either its distinctive qualities or its power. This lot had been on the list to dive further into for far too long and, on this evidence, would repay the effort. The CD has now been ordered, although quite why I didn’t just buy it up there I don’t know…

Considerately, they were careful not to run over time, as there was an hour break for grub after them, before the eagerly anticipated evening session got underway.

A very swift curry later and we were back in position for what was expected to be a pretty cracking evening line-up, kicking off with the ever wonderful The School. I’d been wondering how all eight of them were going to fit onto what certainly wasn’t an overly large stage but, as they were two light, it was just a cosy fit rather than a major problem.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had the pleasure of their company now but it’s always an absolute blast and, in an ideal world, I’d have them play a gig locally every month or two and I’d genuinely not tire of it. All three albums are a joy and they consistently give me a great deal of pleasure.

While I’m more than happy to traipse around the country watching bands like this in the company of like-minded people, why aren’t these bands getting more back for their efforts? I was persuaded to watch some of the Brit Awards this week and, apart from having Sleaford Mods lyrics running round my head throughout, contrasting that artificial world of false camaraderie, hype and lack of any real talent or soul against the genuine thing in Glasgow was striking, if ultimately depressing.

Hot on their numerous collective heels, were Chorusgirl, another band I was particularly looking forward to seeing. To heighten my enjoyment, I’d also managed to secure a highly desirable position to watch them from, being about six feet from both bar and stage. You don’t get that at the O2.

Bedecked in matching T-Shirts, they lived up to pre-festival expectations and then some. Glorious songs delivered beautifully. You can’t really ask for much more.

One point struck me around now; the use of digital tuners. Is it me or do they encourage constant checking? It’s not a criticism, more an observation. Were things less in tune when they didn’t exist? Surely modern guitars hold their tune just as well or better than older kit? Anyone care to shed any light on this?

Tigercats. The wonderful, wonderful Tigercats. A band that just seem to keep getting better. Now with extra Paul Rains on guitar, surely they must be pretty much touching 11 on everyone’s personal scale of all that is good and wholesome in the world?

On this evidence that certainly are and they had the whole crowd in their hands from the moment they stepped onto the stage, bathed as it was in some rather unexpected red lights. We were treated to a scattering of new songs which hints that, after the more subtle approach of Mysteries, they intend to rocking out a bit more. Frankly, it doesn’t much matter what style or avenues they choose, if they continue to produce stuff of this quality.

Isle of Dogs was an instant attention grabbing album whereas Mysteries took time to bed in before narrowly edging ahead, in my book. Can they beat that standard with their third album? I hope so but the world may just explode with pleasure if they do. I certainly will.

They were as close to perfect here as I’ve experienced from any half-hour of my life.

Trust Fund closed the day and had a pretty short straw in having to follow Duncan and crew. However, the crowd were in a suitably good frame of mind to see past the various technical issues that they suffered and they gave an almighty performance, as befits a headline act.

Veering from noisy as hell to gentle and subtle, often in the same song, Ellis’ excellent vocals and arrangements gave us exactly what was needed. “Make it bleed!”

And so to the end of a superb day’s entertainment. Home to bed and the chance to do it all again the following day. Why isn’t every weekend like this?

Pop South Festival, Glasgow – Friday 12th February 2016

A bitterly cold weekend with intermittent snow – actual proper snow that we’re not used in the soft south – in a city that, if judged purely aesthetically, is always going to struggle to fight off being described as ‘brutal’ may not be considered a classic way to mark a significant birthday (as I have been repeatedly told this year apparently is) but it proved, in all ways, just about a perfect way to do just that.

I can only imagine what motivates the fine folk such as Pop South to organise events like these – it certainly won’t be the money. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of looking round a packed hall where people are obviously having a massively good time while the finest bands around churn out fab tune after fab tune, knowing that they made it happen. Whatever it is, long may it continue, as it allows those of us lucky enough to be able to get along to escape from reality for a few days. I don’t know about you but I need things like this to sustain me through the grind of everyday life.

Friday night’s openers were Joyce Delaney, a three-piece with bags of energy and enthusiasm, who made an early claim for the coveted ‘best looking bass of the weekend’ award. Chuck in a mass of enthusiasm, confidence, audience interaction and clap-a-long songs and we were definitely on to an early winner. In my excitement to capture my thoughts, my rapidly scrawled notes from their set included what appear to be the words “familiar pluty rap ham”, for no obvious reason. It was a only slightly gloomy in there and I was only on my first pint at this stage so I have no idea what I was moved to write down or why it ended up as it did. Perhaps they could write a song with that title and I’ll look like I was just ahead of the game, rather than a bit of an arse?

Jutland Songs took over and their fuller and more powerful sound kept the mood of optimism sustained. However, they lacked the confidence and attitude of the openers and were subsequently more of a slow burner than their short set really allowed for.

The splendidly named Breakfast Muff gave us masses of chorusy-fuzz, played for periods with their backs to the audience and swapped instruments at the drop of a plectrum. Two chorded noisy pop songs delivered with a sledgehammer force are pretty much irresistible and I lapped them up.

I’d seen The Tuts before and been underwhelmed by them, although that was a few years ago. Times move on and they blew me away here, though. Singer/guitarist Nadia led them through their excellent Clash-esque set with barely time to draw breath. I’m sure there couldn’t have been a toe in the room that remained untapped as they put every ounce of their heart and soul into the performance.

They are recording their debut album at the moment and need your help to pay for it. They have a Pledge website where you can choose just how far you’re prepared to go to support their efforts. I’ve chipped in and look forward to hearing the album: I recommend you do the same. We really do need to cherish and support bands like them, as we do for all the acts that played this weekend and other events like it, whenever and wherever they are.

Wales Goes Pop – Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff 30th March

The chance to see ten bands in a day is always to be given due consideration, especially if The School and Allo Darlin are in the mix. Add in the fact that this was an all-age  bash, thereby allowing my daughter to attend her first gig, and hopefully satisfy her persistent questions as to why she can’t go to gigs, and attendance quickly became mandatory. So it was that the two of us set sail and headed west.

The Gate Arts Centre is a converted church, with the main arena having a horseshoe of tiered pews round the edge of the central area and a glorious wooden arched roof. A great place to spend a day.

The event was organised by various members of The School, so fittingly they were first to play on the middle day of the three. Eight-strong, they were almost in danger of outnumbering the audience, as it was an early start time but people continued to join the merry throng as they gave a solid run through of their two albums. Highlights for me were “Valentine”, “Where does your heart belong” (possibly the only song to feature one person playing both a treble recorder and a triangle) and “Stop that boy”. In truth, there’s not a duff track on either album, so anything they played would have been very welcome and they are always a pleasure to witness live.

There are few things to beat the sight and sound The School at full strength, with their dual violins swooping and diving through something like “I want you back”. They were  simply a joy from start to finish.

Six weeks ago, I’d not hear of Torquay’s Big Wave but, after their very promising performance at the London Popfest, I was really looking forward to them picking up where they left off. Although the sound was more than slightly ragged, with the vocals particularly indistinct, it was possible to hear that there was a lot of interesting things going on and I could feel the whole thing creeping under my skin. As and when I get some of their recorded stuff, I feel it’ll be the start of something new and long lasting. I do hope so.

Feeling suitably buoyed after such a strong opening pair, my spirits were lifted even further on spotting a woman wearing a dress covered in prints of various steam engines. As a kid, I had bedroom wallpaper with the very same images on it. Spooky.

In keeping with the mini-festival feel to the day, we decamped to the café-bar next door for the next act, Ides. A single singer-guitarist dishing out tales of unhappy love affairs, aptly described by my daughter as ”depressing, but alright”. She grew on me as time passed (Ides, that is, not my daughter) and I really enjoyed her last song. It was, though, a slightly incongruous experience to witness the bearing of her inner soul while all around people were tucking in to tea and cakes, lager and fish and chips.

Back to the main hall for The Holiday Crowd, who I thought were new to me but they opened with “Painted like a forest”, which I remembered hearing on the ever-great Dandelion Radio a few times. Their semi-acoustic jangliness and ‘proper’ singing reminded me at first of 1000 Violins, which I consider high praise. Other comparisons emerged however as they progressed, such as early U2/Simple Minds with a miniscule smattering of Chameleons round the gills.

The good bits of their set came early on but they soon got too stadium rock for me and when the singer starts to play the drums at the same time as the drummer, it’s usually a signal to get another beer in.

I’d heard good things about Kid Canaveral and was hoping they lived up to the praise. Led by a man with a fair chance of bringing home at least a ‘Highly Commended’ in any ‘Young Brian Blessed’ competition he may chance to enter, they were too much for one of the younger attendees. She immediately clamped her hands to her ears and was swiftly whisked away to have ear-defenders wedged on her tender head. And quite rightly too, as there was masses of chugga-chugga guitar going on and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. “Do you know something that I don’t know” definitely hit the target with classic dual-buzz axemanship driving it along wonderfully. Great!

Taking stock before heading back to the café, I found that I could see: kids playing with balloons, pints next to baby bottles, several people reading the Guardian, a Thin Lizzy t-shirt, two people (both adults) eating Monster Munch, someone wearing a plastic tiara and ear muffs, someone else reading C.S. Lewis’ ‘Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, one person in a Norwich City top, adults playing with  balloons and a solitary Half Man Half Biscuit t-shirt. I felt quite at home.

Threatmantics had the dubious privilege of serenading us as we ate. Usually at gigs, if you’re hungry the only option is to have a Guinness. All hail then the Gate Arts Centre  and its ‘Evening Tapas Menu’, with a choice of seven decent bottled beers to wash it down with.

The band, who had forsaken their usual drummer for a hollow plastic block and a lighter (much easier to transport, I suppose) had a folk-country aspect to their gait but with added Welsh lyrics from time to time. Good use of repetitive riffs and a violin saw them go down rather well. As a rule of thumb, anyone taking to a stage in front of me wearing a Sonic Youth shirt is enough to start bells ringing but I’m delighted to say it was merely a false alarm here. I’ll stick by that rule for a while longer yet though, just to be safe.

Onions. An intriguing name. Avoiding any obvious remarks such as making your eyes water, they hit the stage in a pleasantly noisy fashion and never looked back. A suited and booted trio, they had a lovely graunchy guitar sound, with good harmonies. There was more than a suspicion of Elvis Costello about the bassist though but any band that can introduce a song with “This is called ‘A beard’ and that’s what it’s about” probably deserves at least ten minutes of your time, I think. As their set progressed, their sound mellowed a bit but they were still most enjoyable. My daughter thought they rocked and who am I to disagree.

Totem Terrors were a late substitution for The Proctors and the duo immediately made me think of I, Ludicrous albeit fleetingly. Their sparse sound of drum-machine and bass, with sparingly applied guitar for a bit of variety was excellent. Early Fall in places, with a bit of Oldham’s Drink and Drive came to mind. Tip-top stuff throughout and I’ll be getting a CD or two just as soon as I get the chance. You may like to do the same.

Any remaining small children in the vicinity were removed as Let’s Wrestle approached the stage. Actually, ‘stage’ is too grand a term. There was an area about four feet deep behind the monitors, with two steps going up behind that to another bit just deep enough for a drum kit. Small, but perfectly adequate.

Tanks” soon filled the room and it was obvious that the volume had been increased somewhat to allow us to get the full effect. “In my dreams” and “I won’t cry for you” stood out as successes but, call me old-fashioned, I prefer them at their noisiest. If they’re not crashing heads down at full-power through one of their songs, they rather lose their point. When they get it right, it’s sounds awesome. It just doesn’t happen as much as I’d like. Probably just me though.

And so to Allo Darlin, the day’s headliners and the main reason for our journey. One thought struck me as we waited in anticipation. At what point in a band’s career do other people set up the equipment? AD patiently assembled every last drumstick and plectrum in full view of us all.

Tonight’s opener was a new one – one of four they were unwrapping tonight, telling us that they’d not played any of them live before. Suitably honoured, we listened as they played the first of these, “Heartbeat” – a new, progressive, dub-step sound that is really quite a radical change in direction.

Only joking (well, it was virtually April Fool’s Day by then) – it was gloriously  vintage Allo Darlin and whetted the appetite for the third album, rumoured to be in production right now, and sounded bang on form. “Loneliness is art” and “Europe” followed before all eyes were drawn to the photographer at the front.

Now, I have a lot of time for photographers. Most of us enjoy great shots of our faves doing their thing and someone’s got to take them but I’ve yet to see a transparent camera wielder. On the whole, they recognise this fact and are pretty considerate to the rest of us, crouching down and keeping to the sides of the stage. Not this guy. He stood centre-stage and took shot after shot. As he danced.

I’m no expert on these things but gigs are often pretty dark and dingy affairs and to compensate, you need a slower exposure, which is fairly incompatible with the vigorous movements he was making. Being a digital camera, we could all see the shots he was taking. All I’ll say is he‘ll have an awful lot of blurred close-ups of Bill’s ‘tache for his trouble.

Back to the band, who dealt admirably with having their every move fuzzily captured on Flickr forevermore by closing their eyes. Bill apologised for not being able to sing  clearly as he was feeling under the weather. However, it appears that this was self-inflicted by drinking with the Wave Pictures the night before.

The other new songs were “Angela”, “Half heart necklace” and “Bright eyes” – the last of which was the pick of the bunch, not least because it wasn’t a cover, but also as it was sung by Paul and is a right belter.

They were, as ever, fantastically entertaining and had everyone up and jiggling around in a vaguely rhythmic manner, which is about as good as it gets with an average indie-pop crowd. The new songs bode well for the year ahead and they showed no signs of losing momentum. Three years ago, I’d never heard of them. Now they continue to make life bearable and long may they continue to do so.

If Wales Goes Pop is repeated next year, I’ll be very tempted to come for the whole weekend. Thanks to everyone for making it another great experience. Except maybe the photographer.