Tuesday, 30 September 2008


Venue: The Stables, Wavendon, MK.
Reviewer: MMT

Last Friday my Dad’s band played a retirement party in the meeting room at the end of their Department’s corridor. They’ve been going a good twenty, twenty five years, and as OU Party Bands go, they’re pretty damn good - for a bunch of Dads with guitars. ;-) It was a few songs before Southside Johnny warmed up enough to show that his own well-travelled act was anything more than just a bigger bunch of Dads with guitars and horns.

I will hold my hands up (as ever!) and state outright that I had never even heard of Southside Johnny - let alone his band the Asbury Jukes – before Dad invited me and Chris along to The Stables. But I always enjoy going along with him to these Dad Band Occasions, and this one was an eye-opener! I’ve never seen The Stables so packed, and an audience so enthusiastic, almost bordering on hysterical in places! And I’ve seen some pretty good bands there!

So – Southside Johnny is a singer from Noo Joisey who usually plays with a band which features a brass/horn section (delete as appropriate, I dunno the exact terminology!) – trumpet, trombone, sax and a much bigger sax which my Dad thinks was a bass sax. He’s been going a long time (he’s three weeks older than Dad) and his Wikipedia entry links him heavily with “the Jersey Shore sound” out of which also came Bruce Springsteen. Guitarist Bobby Bandiera also currently plays live with New Jersey’s most famous sons, Bon Jovi.

That’s the history, but judging them just on the performance was easy. It wasn’t really my sort of music – mostly good-time party rhythm n’ blues with occasional tinges of soul – but I’ve learnt on these occasions to sit back and enjoy the displays of musicianship on offer. I know it sounds a bit wanky, but the sheer craftsmanship of the band was breathtaking, one of the tightest acts I’ve ever seen live – even though Johnny kept muttering that they weren’t playing very well. Apparently their keyboard player had been denied a work permit on entry to the UK and was subsequently missing from their sound. “Tricky for us, he starts most of the songs”, drawled Johnny. Nightmare!

It was four or five tracks before this experienced frontman warmed up enough to start wisecracking, but once he did it was clear he’s been doing this a long time. The banter with the audience and the band was effortless, although his griping at the sound guys re: monitor levels is something I never like to see.

Their most recent album, perhaps unsurprisingly for 2008 (see also Scarlett Johansson) is an album of Tom Waits covers, and actually some of the songs they’ve done in their own R n’ B Big Band format work well. Me and Chris started watching the backline of the four-strong horn section to try and work out their characters. The long-haired trombonist had a permanent smile on his face, while the lead sax dude kept coming front and centre to do solos with a weird crouching stance that gave the slight impression he was blowing the notes out of his arse.

The main axis of the eight-piece band though was the partnership between Bobby Bandiera (who did a couple of politely feedbacky solos that I think even Phil might have liked!) and Johnny himself. As the night wore towards a close, they were taking requests from the crowd and playing them flawlessly, laughing and joking – even playing a heartbreakingly poignant impromptu version of “Silent Night” that perversely may have been my favourite song of the night.

The crowd were on their middle-aged feet and dancing enthusiastically by the encore. I glanced around and saw that there were younger people too, dotted here and there. Up on the balcony, three girls were dancing like the girls out of The Commitments. Where does the Dad Band line begin and end these days, I wonder? Something worth pondering. Anyway, a good night of funtime rock. Maybe one day I’ll have a horn section too.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Venue & Support: Various throughout the Summer of 2008
Reviewer: Dill

Despite Phil confidently predicting on a sunny Saturday morning that it was the first day of summer, my chronometer (with the handy calendar function) told me we were well into September already, and that, wishful thinking and global warming aside, Summer was now Over. A good summer, all told, as I took to behaving like an uncommitted student with a line of credit and generally did Grand and Noble things (at least in my eyes, especially after four or five large quaffs of the regular, please, landlord). However, the highlight of the Summer of 2008 has been without a doubt having the privilege and pleasure of following The Further Adventures of Vodka Boy on their travels around Milton Keynes. They’ve been creating a bit of a stir...

In simple terms Vodka Boy are, as they tell us in their eponymous, autobiographical track, Martin on guitar and Matthew on voice, and simplicity is certainly part of the duo’s charm. Each a composer of particular parts of their oeuvre, they seem to resonate best when pared down tunes match thoughtful, mainly wistful but oddly hopeful lyrics, with the odd finger click. While the chords are sparse and clean, the singing is powerful and pure. The diction is so good there is absolutely no need for lyric sheets, while each strum of Martin’s guitar is delivered with Swiss timing. It’s catchy. First time listeners have been known to sing along to choruses at the first repeat.

But it isn’t all simplicity. There really is something about these guys, something that captivates. Martin broods into his guitar, and amazingly keeps himself to himself on the stage. It seems to leave Matthew with sole possession of the stage, onto which he graciously invites all to partake of the experience. The man has chutzpah, huevas, balls. Listen to him singing ‘Blonde Girl on a Summer’s Day’, or Bon Jovi’s ‘Blaze of Glory’ and you get a sense of the fun that these two have together – it leaks out toward the audience. Matthew has a stage presence that seems to amplify ‘Essence of Band’ by a factor of 10. Used as headliners, they wrap up an evening so comprehensively, you know they were meant to be, were born to be, the headliners of that particular show. On their ‘Back To The Land Tour’ this summer (the resultant ‘Live’ CD is due for release at sometime in the near future), they’ve played without support, in fields, in woods, in corners of poetry stages, but always Convincingly. Festival season in Milton Keynes was continually augmented by their presence. Their music was mixed up with a few catchy covers, and a new track ‘Thistledown’ getting it’s first airing. But throughout, the delivery was a matter of professional consistency. This is Milton Keynes ‘Premier Acoustic Duo’. But they already know this. They’ve added in the lyric to their story track.

But the highlight for me was as a warm up act at a vast July evening party where the drinking and socialising had not yet begun. Everyone was in their own little groups, minding their own business, and wondering what the night was going to bring them. Vodka Boy took the stage to murmuring, chatting little groups, uninterested in any entertainment they could not provide themselves. Matthew greeted them to little effect. Martin hit the first chord meaningfully, Matthew hit the sing button and scores of heads snapped round, suddenly, unwillingly, unavoidably hooked. The party was a Great Party.

If there are any criticisms of the band I have to make it’s that Vodka Boy still play locally, unfazed by their burgeoning reputation, just seeming to ‘want to get the music out there’. There are rarely large crowds, but a large crowd would add to the magic. It’s charming, but the talent is obvious and you are left to wonder what the hell they are still doing here. Not that you’ll complain. I’ve yet to see anyone do so who has come across them. They are even starting to get together a ‘Stable’ of acts together and putting ‘Evenings’ on. Not that they need it. You have every opportunity of getting to see them. The Monkey Kettle editor is well apprised of their movements and should be able to tell you of their next appearance. I advise you to see them. They really are that good.