Saturday, 20 December 2008


Venue: Northampton Roadmender
Support: Devilish Presley
Reviewer: Dill

Many people will ‘know’ that the first UK Punk album was ‘Never Mind The Bollocks’ by The Sex Pistols. However, it isn’t true. That distinction, as well as first UK punk single and first US tour by a punk band from these shores - even first UK punk band to reform! - belongs to The Damned. A fine addition to this in the early 80s, in the opinion of Ned Raggett, was: ‘Vanian's smart crooning and spooky theatricality ended up more or less founding goth rock inadvertently (with nearly all his clones forgetting what he always kept around — an open sense of humor)’ (The Damned at Allmusic). Quite a list of achievements, quite a place in music history, and after 30 years (give or take the odd hiatus, including a short solo career for original guitarist Raymond Burns – the one and only Captain Sensible of course), you would presume quite accomplished. However, none of this actually seems to matter to the protagonists themselves.

This was to be my second Damned gig and Ratty’s sixth, both of us looking forward to it with great anticipation. The group seem pre-disposed to a yearly tour just before Christmas. There is a family atmosphere to the proceedings. Little knots of Goth girls with their corsets just about keeping (most of) everything in will bounce around in certain areas, little knots of weathered old-school punks gather in certain other areas in their tartan and leather, the twain occasionally meeting. Middle aged men crowd the bar and know everybody else in clean jeans and t-shirts. The merchandising stall carries out a brisk trade. It is a curiosity to me to watch these little groups ebb and flow with little bits of animated chatter, pats on the back, large friendly laughs, far more intimate than so many gigs before the show starts. Then 300 or so of the faithful cram into the main hall, and the proceedings begin.

Support was from Devilish Presley. Guitars, Johnny. Bass, Jacqui. Loud, hard, fast, simple. Punk rock DNA. Their last number introduced another feature to punk, encouraging local talent. Up pops Ratty’s friend Mike (Motorbike Mike) to chug out rhythm to his own song as part of the Devilish setlist. I’d love to say instant cult-hero created, stage invasion, etc. but he actually looked scared witless. Set over, another dash to the bar, a chuckle or two, on with the show.

The Damned don’t have many formalities. Walk onto the stage, arrange instruments, click the drumsticks and off. In terms of music, they have loads of great music (this time around they were playing stuff off a new album, which made a great Christmas present for Ratty, and which interested Grahame enough to request a copy when he was round for dinner over the Festivities). Their style is a curious mix of punk and goth-rock, but it’s all held together really well by Dave Vanian. He’s been likened to a crooner, and from a pro’s perspective, would be a good character study for how a singer can hold an audience without histrionics, excessive movement, acting up, just economical theatric movement. If he’s not needed, he’ll vacate the stage, old enough and wise enough to know he doesn’t need to hog the limelight.

In this Sensible is the polar opposite. He will hog anything that is given to him, constantly hamming it up to the audience, keeping the banter going (the audience is very much a part of the show). This time round he saw fit to show his 50 year old backside, Nikki confessed she saw him totally nekkid a few weeks prior. Considering, though, that he’s pretty good on gee-tar, certain allowances can be made (I did have to resist using the statement ‘it’s no biggy’ there), especially when, as a special treat for us, he first gave a rare outing to ‘Happy Talk’, then hoiked a pre-pubescent youngster up onto stage to play guitar for the end of show (remarkably talented little ferret that he was), and by the look of him outside after the gig, about to embark on his own career, starstruck little sod.

However, my favourite band member has to be Monty Oxy Moron. The man just seems doomed. Last time we saw him, he had an elaborate Perspex barrier to protect his beloved keyboards, and set up at back of stage, so he got targeted for the beer chucking within 30 seconds. He spent the next five minutes right at the front of the stage, ranting at some random member of the audience, before the roadies moved in, soothed his furrowed brow, and shepherded him back to his set up, which promptly stopped working. This time, he chose to set up stage right, next to the smoke machine, which then proceeded to belch out fumes straight into his face. Quality. He gestured frantically to the roadies, ticked them off, got the smoke going anywhere but in his face… and then grimaced as his keyboards again went down. Cue again frantic gestures and some toys going out of the pram.

Highlight of the evening for Ratty was a ‘drum-off’ between Captain and Monty for one of their new tracks, and for me the frantic mixing of the sound engineer towards the end of the night. Vanian was obviously under the weather, and though it didn’t affect the overall show, his voice must have been all over the place. I say must have been, chiefly because of the work at the sound-desk. Its always good to see talent at work from close up, whether on or off the stage. The next days show was cancelled soon after the performance.

So were they any good? I suppose the best way I can explain it is as follows. The Damned have been playing for 30 years, and no longer have a recording contract, nor do they get much in the way of press. Very little of their back catalogue can be found in the major outlets. Yet they can still record kickass music (sorry KICK-AAAAASSSSS music) which doesn’t necessarily need to fit into any one particular genre. They’re not bored with it all, not regurgitating old standards, still showing a lust for life. The only thing that keeps them in the public eye is their tours. They’ll pop up all over Europe – I took a long weekend in Prague last year and missed them by a couple of weeks - and they are always well attended, their fanbase is extremely faithful, and new converts (such as myself) are continually being made.

Bring on the 2009 tour….

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Venue: London Astoria
Support: Fabienne Delsol
Dill and Phil W.

Phil, who WERE the support band? Apart from weird French people that is…

Support was provided by French singer Fabienne Delsol who performed a mixture of both covers and original material including new single “I'm Gonna Catch Me A Rat” from her latest album “Between You And Me”. She released her first album in 2004; looking at the track listing it includes a song called “My Love Is Like A Spaceship”! Not sure if she played that one or exactly how the metaphor works but it sounds like a song I'd like to hear!

Wow, that’s almost like a direct from website puff, or you really did like them? For me though, they affected my evening, as I got side-tracked into looking at the band dynamics, and I did that for the Warhols. It really did look odd with Fabienne Delsol – one side lively, having fun, bouncing around; the other side on secondment from Toussaud’s. They could well be termed ‘cute’, or maybe ‘chic’. Archetypal French peeps whatever. Do you think it was cobbled together to support her? Whatever, I think they won me over in the end.

They certainly won ME over in the end but I was far from convinced at the start of their set. As far as band dynamics go, its not too unusual for one performer to look upbeat and lively on stage while another looks like they’re waiting in line at the bank but it was noticeable here; the more the guitarist on Fabienne Delsol's right looked sullen and detached, the more the guitarist on her left seemed to be enjoying himself. But I doubt there was necessarily any pre-conceived plan behind this. Musically the band were certainly stuck in another time - somewhere around 1969 - from sound to dress sense. I'm never sure how I feel about that kind of thing, so purposefully imitating another time, but it worked for them and cute is definitely a good description of the final product both in looks and sound. Actually what stuck with me most after their set was their use of stage lights, which had them permanently bathed in simple, motionless blue and purple lights that shone down from directly above them through a permanent haze of dry ice. It rendered the late sixties vibe complete so that for a moment you could lose yourself in their own indulgence.

The lighting was possibly more to do with what was to come. I guess you’ll agree THAT was fairly elaborate…

Yeah, the Dandy's had themselves backed with banks of multicoloured strip lights; impressive but simple enough not to detract from the band themselves. Complemented with the house lights and the occasional burst of strobe, they drew us into a world of psychedelic starfields and bursting supernovas.

Hummm, maybe you saw a Black Hole as well. I just got occasionally blinded, but I don’t have your design experience to notice much else. I suppose part of the lighting was to somehow keep them in the dark. I don’t think I ever got a full-on, fully-lit sighting of Courtney Taylor, or (licks lips) Zia in the whole proceedings. Even Pete was a little obscure from 5 feet away, but then I suppose that’s his style, surly arse! It did allow Brent to get a sneaky, cheeky sniffsnort of something, however (allegedly). Age, I reckon. It’s hard to grasp the fact that they’ve been making their slightly kooky music for the last 15 years. Even though they were promoting a new album “…Earth to The Dandy Warhols…”, it wasn’t all new songs. You’d almost think they had an impressive back catalogue….

You would, except that over the last 15 years the band has quietly accumulated a VERY impressive back catalogue! I've been a proud fan of The Dandy Warhols since I first discovered them a little late on with their third album “Thirteen Tales From Urban Bohemia”. Psychedelic shoegazing, grunge infested power pop and unlikely with horns! I'm there!! The same week I bought the record, I went back to the store and bought the first two albums, both of which have outstanding moments (“Minnesota” for example), but “Thirteen Tales” has remained my favourite listen. The three song sequence that opens the album has to be one of my all time favourite album openings; sometimes I've just stopped the album after the first three songs and gone back to the start! I saw them live that same year and they were stunning, the lengthy moments of psychedelic jamming making the biggest impression on me. I never really got “Welcome To The Monkey House” but “Odditorium” for me felt like a return to form. I've ordered “Earth To Dandy Warhols” from Amazon, so we'll see if it makes it through the post before Christmas!

Whereas I really dug “Welcome to the Monkey House”, along with the rest. I think it’s because they’re musical minah birds, mimicking styles that they dig. And with “Monkey House”, they dug the 80s, Duran Duran, Simple Minds etc…. Dude, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if they’d just come on, played their new album to us, and cleared off. Instead they gave us a real treat. How many songs was it?

I think it was probably around 28 or 29 songs in the end. At some point toward the end of the set Zia complained to Courtney they had already played 26 songs, add in the unexpected (but hoped for! – Dill) performance of “The Dandy Warhols' T.V. Theme Song” and the closer “Country Leaver” and the fact you noted on the sound desk 27 songs’ cues and it must be around that number. I'm not even sure if they played an encore, at some point the whole band did leave the stage but for Courtney who treated us to a solo version of “Every Day Should Be a Holiday”. I wondered at the time if that was actually the end of the main set but the rest of the band just couldn't get Courtney off stage! After more than two hours, Courtney had to be practically forced off stage by his band members and the house lights. It was certainly value for money and I couldn't think of many songs I would have liked to hear and didn't! Over two hours they really did plunder material from all six albums including the first song from their first album, the aforementioned “The Dandy Warhols' T.V. Theme Song”, which Zia claimed they hadn't played in fifteen years!'

All but one song of the set was original content – and even “Little Drummer Boy” they had covered way back when. Yes, I remember that they couldn’t drag him off at the end. It was too late for an encore, but what could they have done? By that time, my bladder had pushed me away from front stage, and towards the ‘comfort areas’. The crowd was so dense, there was no way back!! Which brings me back to band dynamics. At front stage (off to the side), the band did seem a bit dysfunctional to me – three separate islands of activity. Zia on her own, Pete on his depressed own, Courtney and Brent having a laugh in the middle. But when I saw them from the back, it was completely different, and they were, actually, so together. And loving it. And loving us. The crowd were bouncing all the way to the back door, and I felt somehow…. ‘Christmas-ey’. Which brings me to this…. If the whole point of a review is to make someone want to see them, wouldn’t it have been far easier just to say ‘They’re brilliant, not to be missed, go see them, now’?

I guess it would be! I mean, they were brilliant, they really shouldn't be missed, and everyone should go see them now! Except the circus has already left town, and looking at their tour schedule, the band should be back in Portland by now to celebrate Christmas with their families. So most of you have missed the show, but what a show it was! More than two hours of sonic marvelling; Zia enthusiastically shaking her tambourine with one hand while working out a bass line on her keyboards with the other, Pete lost in his own world of intergalactic guitar textures and kicking away at a myriad of multicoloured effects pedals. Brent slamming on his drums while Courtney took centre stage, hemmed inside a circle of monitors that had the effect of mounting him on a metaphorical podium. And all the hits just started rolling out: “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”, “Bohemian Like You”, “We Used To Be Friends”, “Good Morning”, “Godless”, “Boy's Better”, “Minnesota”, of course all of these were released over half a decade ago! Not to say the band haven't released some great music since then, but for now their chart topping days are definitely over and it’s quite possible the band are happy to keep it that way. Famously uncomfortable with their success at the time, and actually, as anyone who's seen “DiG!” can attest, the Dandy Warhols never were the band to save rock n roll. More than a decade after “Not If You Were The Last Junkie On Earth”, the Dandy's are playing epic two hour shows in modest venues; they are the rock n roll legends of their own particular corner of the world, knowing full well even their fans find themselves scratching their heads in confusion the first time they spin any of their recent releases. In the end, you've just gotta feel the vibe man, you've just gotta get into the groove, you've just gotta dig! And if history is anything to go by, The Dandy Warhols will be back next year and everyone should go and see them! Well, you know, if you dig!

……A sort of ‘Yes!’, then, except for the ‘Now!’…

Monday, 1 December 2008

"Sue" : Frazier Chorus

(SONGS FROM UNDER MY BED – Lost Classics Rediscovered)
by MMT.

#1“Sue” : FRAZIER CHORUS (1989)

Not so long after coming up with the concept for this occasional series, and even less long after extricating my knackered copied tape of this album from the maze of tunnels which lies beneath our bed, I had one of those serendipitous moments: despite never having met anyone else that’s heard this album or having heard it mentioned anywhere in the music press or the world since, it’s been re-released this year for no apparent reason! So if you’re stuck for something to buy me for Christmas, details can be found at the bottom of this articlette. Ta.

Brighton’s Frazier Chorus (to me at least) were one of those indie-poppy bands who you might see on The Chart Show once in a blue moon (again, see below) but existed in a pre-Madchester slough in the late Eighties when quirky independent bands rarely if ever got into The Actual Charts and ‘made it’. (Though actually this, their debut album proper, was on Virgin). Their two ‘hits’ from “Sue” - “Typical” and the more memorable “Dream Kitchen” - reached #53 and #57 respectively. They apparently went a bit “indie-dancey” after this for a further two albums, but by then even their brief blip on my radar was over.

But listening to “Sue” again just shy of twenty years on, there’s still been virtually nothing like it since – it’s a smashing collection of lazily melancholic songs about frustration and boredom. I can’t even think of any other similar-sounding bands for comparison – and impressively, it hasn’t even dated much.

The band’s party piece is to forego much of yer usual guitars and bass in favour of flutes, clarinets, percussive instruments, a poppy orchestral/musak production and vocals recorded so intimately it’s like singer Tim Freeman’s sat on an old chair in your room mumbling, half-whispering the lyrics to you like a friend. Quite a miserable, deadpan friend.

Creating a mood that’s perversely evocative despite containing very little, “Sue” exists in a world of “snoozing”, “tea”, “pottering about”, “rain”, and “reading the papers”. Their songs tell pointless stories about going for a dull drive (“and once you've seen one tree... you've seen them all” - “Little Chef”), having a nap in front of Postman Pat (“Forty Winks”), and dying relationships and, er, Shake-N-Vac (“Living Room”). It’s a sad, sleepy album, but one with a genuine sense of menace at times. Standout track “Storm” is both achingly wistful and skin-crawlingly sinister – not an easy balance to work with. And the reverb-laden "Forgetful" is just creepy!

But by cripes it’s bored, too. An album that feels like a Sunday afternoon, watching the clock hands move slowly through the hours. An album that’s run out of things to say to its wife. An album that knows it can’t articulate itself about the things that really matter and so mutters on about kitchens and dust and lumpy couches and carpets. An album that maybe even enjoys this tired feeling of ennui. And surely we can all dig that. Ever decreasing circles. The minutiae of existence. This stuff is so kind to my hands.

So… if you ever see it in a sale or something, check it out. Or if somebody buys it me for Christmas I’ll do you a copy. It’s, y’know. Okay. (yawns)


* - official site with links to buying the re-issued album from the record label.

* – video for “Dream Kitchen” – a bit quiet but worth a watch, not least cos it’s a version straight off The Chart Show! Respec’! Also on YouTube is the video for “Typical” - – with some weird starsign captions from The Chart Show too!