This fifth solo album from Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is probably her most hotly anticipated yet. Her last, self-titled, album came as a bit of a breakthrough for her, although that term ‘breakthrough’ tends to disregard the build-up. After the St. Vincent album came out in 2014 she was able to head out on a massive world tour, playing more dates in larger venues than ever before, but this wouldn’t have been possible without the profile-raising albums that proceeded it. Her collaboration with Talking Heads front-man David Byrne in 2012, Love This Giant, must have brought her new followers but, even more than that, the crystallisation of ideas that occur on her third album, Strange Mercy, played a massive part in establishing Annie as the star she is now. She’s a star with a very specific set of art-rock credentials that put her in a very enviable category. It’s cool, it’s fresh and, ultimately, it’s music as art that is intellectual, expressive, experimental and popular.
When I first found myself in The Rose Hill about a year ago I marvelled at the number of musicians I recognised dotted around the pub: over half the people sat at tables I’d seen in some band or other over the last few years. It felt like some sort of speak-easy for musos and I liked it! Funny then that this was only my third visit since, but it gave me the opportunity to see how much the pub has moved forward. It now boasts one of the best selections of booze in town at some of its most reasonable prices. Enough about the venue, tonight was all about the music, of course!
Queens of the Stone Age return for their seventh outing in what many see as an unlikely pairing with producer Mark Ronson. The first glimpse of the forthcoming record was a bizarre comedy skit on YouTube, where Josh Homme appears with the band, clad in leather and wired up to a lie-detector. He attempts to evade or misdirect all questions about the album, including denying even knowing Ronson, who is revealed to be DJing in the corner! But it’s here we get the argument against Ronson as producer outlined, in a context that shows the band are highly aware of why he will be considered a controversial choice for many of their fans. In listing some of the people he’s worked with, “Adele, Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, Duran Duran, Christina Aguilera…” we realise, if we didn’t already know, that this guy is best known for his work with modern pop stars, albeit with a tendency towards retro sounds, taking a lot of influence from 80s and 60s pop.
Brooklyn four-piece Grizzly Bear are back after an extended hiatus with their fifth album, Painted Ruins, one of the most hotly anticipated releases of the year. I sometimes feel that, despite the pace of online media, music has this tendency to work its way into the public consciousness more slowly now, than it did when I was younger. Perhaps it’s a case of a shift in my perspective, but it certainly feels like the mainstream isn’t as ubiquitous as it once was, and the alternative options are greater and more compartmentalised. In this environment it can take a little while for a band to ascend beyond cult status to become a crossover success. 11 years after Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead told The Quietus that Grizzly Bear were his new favourite band, now they actually feel like one of the biggest bands in the world, rather than a poorly kept secret between friends in the know.
Although I’ve never been the biggest afficianado, I must admit it felt a little strange leaving Brighton on the morning of Pride. Struggling across the parade line to cross town, missing my planned train in the process, waiting for the next, nearly empty train to depart, whilst on either side of us trains packed with glittery revellers prepared to disembark and party hard. I, however, was bound for Kentish Town to see live, in some cases for the first time, some of the bands that had ruled the airwaves during my early years as a burgeoning music fan. Britpop is back, in a way of sorts. It’s not exactly back in the mainstream, chart-bothering way, but then the charts are quite a different beast to those we obsessed over in the 90s. There are radio stations around the country that have stuck doggedly to a non-stop 90s programme since the noughties began. Star Shaped have been running their nostalgia club nights for a while now, but this is their first music festival experience: a touring all-dayer packed with names from the Britpop era (*correction – in fact we are late to the table and Star Shaped put on a Shed 7 fronted festival last year). Many of these bands never actually stopped touring, or have had only the briefest of hiatuses, but it must be a long time since so many have been found gathered together in the same place.
Rock House was initially started eight years ago as a project for local charity Carousel, who help learning-disabled artists develop and manage their creative lives. Before Rock House there was a lack of real performance opportunities for these disabled musicians in a town that prides itself on its music scene, so they launched these nights to try and redress the balance. Since those early days these Rock House nights have grown to become one of the best and most forward-thinking integrated music nights in the UK. I recently caught one of the monthly Rock House nights and, was blown away by the friendly atmosphere and the inventiveness of the musicians. I decided to come and attend this, their first all-dayer event at the Green Door Store, which seemed a great opportunity to introduce the Brightonsfinest audience to this up-and-coming part of the music scene.
Sabien Gator were the first band of the night, putting on a spirited display despite having drawn the short straw of taking the first set when less people had arrived. Undeterred, they played enthusiastically with Shaun Moor’s metal-influenced lead guitar creating a solid base for lead singer Stephen Barnett’s melodies. Stephen did a great job of getting the audience on their feet and into the music, baiting the crowd into cheering louder with each song. They made the perfect opening act for a great day of music.
Second on came Patioland, or rather ‘Not Patioland’, as they soon revealed. The anti-folk duo had been booked to play the festival but unfortunately one of the band had forgotten they were away in the south of France that weekend. Instead we got one half of Patioland (Tom Lavis) who had recruited Adam Bell (Octopuses, Fruity Water) and opted to write an entirely new set especially for the festival. Their songs went down a treat, especially a song written about The Rock House Festival, which was so catchy they played it twice, at the beginning and end of the set, managing to get the whole crowd singing along to the chorus so enthusiastically they ended up losing their second verse!
Seadog followed, a long-standing Brighton act, fronted by Mark Benton – who works for Carousel and was very popular with the growing crowd, many of whom recognised him and were chanting his name. They played a great selection of Seadog tracks, old and new, and seemed relaxed onstage, enjoying the unique atmosphere. Having also found themselves short a couple of players from their current line-up they had recruited another member of the Carousel team (whose name I didn’t quite catch), who had done a great job of learning parts on piano, glockenspiel and viola to fill out the sound. Impressive with only one rehearsal, the band should consider taking her on permanenetly!
Next came The Carbonators, who had come down the road from Croydon, in South London. The band first came together in 2011 as part of a project to get musicians from the growing learning-disabled community to take part in an improvised performance with Damo Suzuki, of the krautrock pioneers Can. Despite some issues with their key-tar towards the end of the set, The Carbonators were on fine form tonight, reminding me a lot of early 80s new wave/post-punk groups. There’s a wide fusion of styles going on – rock, punk, blues, soul and jazz all rolled into one, with hooky call-and-response choruses for the crowd to sing along to.
Leading lights of the learning-disabled music scene in West London, 2Decks closed the first half of the show with their own fusion of hip-hop and rock, which yielded some of the most memorable songs of the night for me. Formed around rapper Darren ‘2Decks’ Peregrino-Brimah, who has been making hip-hop tunes for a decade, the addition of a live rock band makes these guys sound like a jollier Rage Against The Machine, with more shredding guitar, a relentlessly tight drummer and simple but solid dub-wise bass guitar. Their final couple of numbers ‘Whacky Baccy’ and ‘Shoot The Donkey’, got the whole crowd singing and grinning from ear to ear.
My camera ran out of power during 2Decks’ set, so I had to leg it home. Having been happily ensconced in front of the Green Door stage since two in the afternoon I had forgotten what a miserable day it was outside. So I ran home for a bite to eat and got soaked in the process, charged my camera, changed my clothes and then got drenched again on my return trip! It was worth it though for my first chance to hear the current two-piece incarnation of Prince Vaseline in action. Snowy Mountain and Max Earle have been performing without the rhythm section that accompanied them at early shows but, I’d missed every opportunity to check out what they’re currently doing until now. Although the sound didn’t seem to be quite right for the band: their drum machine was struggling to cut through a blend which favoured a washy psychedelic synthesiser a little too much, it was great to hear some new songs, one of which suggested a hint of Pulp influence to my ears. Max was palpably pleased to be involved in the event, and was looking forward to hearing the other bands on the bill, particularly the excellently named Dog Chocoloate.
London-based act Dog Chocolate turned out to be my favourite band of the proceedings when they took to the stage, playing their inimitable hardcore punk-rock songs, propelled along by a wild, nervous energy and a great sense of fun. They have a simple set-up, two guitars (one run through a whole bunch of effects), a stripped back drum kit and occasional keyboards, with lyrical, often slightly surrealist vocals. Like their track ‘I Don’t Know’ which rapidly jumps from asking how Colin is to wondering where the 95% of undetected mass in the universe has gone. The songs are short, spikey and in-your-face – often clocking in way under the three minute mark, which gives the band plenty of time to chat to the crowd, resulting in some hilarious and often quite lovely exchanges, particularly when they find common ground with an audience member who shares some enthusiasm for Nottingham.
The Daniel Wakeford Experience are next to take the stage, arguably the most recognisable face in the learning-disabled music community after Daniel’s legendary appearance on the reality show The Undateables. Daniel wastes no time in pointing out that the ‘Experience’ are merely his backing-band and he is a solo artist, singer-songwriter. He’s a very charismatic performer, and is easily able to whip the crowd up into singing along and joining in with dance moves throughout his set of melodic pop songs. With a generally positive message in the songs, and some great banter often aimed at his parents, who are in the middle of the crowd tonight and loving every moment, it’s easy to get swept up in Daniel’s show, with odes to Brighton, New York and rainbows being particular highlights for me.
Sauna Youth take the penultimate slot, bringing their post-punk sounds down from London to entertain the audience, which has now swelled to capacity. It’s revealed towards the end of their set that drummer and singer, Richard Phoenix, was actually one of the guys who came up with original Rock House concept nearly eight years ago, creating opportunities for aspiring musicians in the learning-disabled community to form bands and give them the opportunity to perform. You could tell he was really enjoying himself tonight, grinning from ear-to-ear, which you expected might be slightly at odds with a typical Sauna Youth show. Although I’ve not seen them live before, the music suggests more of an edge than they brought to the show tonight. It was a great set though, with some really stand-out songs in a genre of music that I don’t normally find quite as arresting – stand-out tracks included ‘Abstract Notions’ and particualry ‘The Bridge’, which got the crowd chanting with its spelt out chorus. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye out for their next visit to town.
Our final act of the night were Zombie Crash, the world’s premier learning-disabled metal band. Formed in 2009, these guys have come up through Carousel’s The Rock House project from the very start, making them the ideal act to close tonight. They’re one of the acts who’ve managed to progress from the underground of this burgeoning scene to get more of a public profile, having been represented on BBC 6Music and Kerrang over the years. Their animalistic metal focuses around their towering lead-guitarist and singer, Ryan O’Donovan, who spoke eloquently and enthusiastically about their involvement in Rock House and how proud they were to be involved in this, the first festival event for the community. The band sound solid tonight, with classic metal riffs and driving drums and bass, with songs based on macabre themes, like ‘The Black Death’. It’s a great finale for a brilliant day of music. Rock House is a few weeks shy of its eighth anniversary and it’s going from strength to strength. I got to see some great bands and overall particularly enjoyed the unrestrained and joyful atmosphere of the event – you should keep an eye out and check out the next show they put on.
We found ourselves at The Hope on Tuesday night for an extremely promising bill of stand-out new bands from the local scene. Up first were Hollow Hand, a rapidly maturing band displaying an ever-increasing on stage synergy and pushing the edges of their compositions with confidence and a calm air of assurance. Tonight's set was never anything other than effortless and languid but also full of dynamics and playfulness. They have a fine array of influences from across the decades, with obvious connections to The Kinks and Television with more contemporary nods to present day Americana. They are going places.
Dirty White Fever are a band with a hell of a reputation for rawkus, eardrum-bursting live shows. They really are one of the loudest bands I’ve seen in action, which seems even more impressive when you consider that there are only two of them. They’re a band that seem to pop up periodically to play a few killer shows before slipping away into the night and out of view. Lead singer and guitarist Dominic Knight has been kept busy, as a former member of The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster and Bad For Lazarus, while drummer Leon Holder can often be found in local venues working the sound desk as one of Brighton’s most respected live engineers. This is apparently how the two met and formed the band: Holder was engineering a night where Knight was performing as a one man band. Having swiftly completed the sound-check Holder thought he’d have a cheeky bash on the kit, Knight caught him in the act, liked what he heard and the rest is history, as they say.
The stars have finally aligned for the return of 12 Stone Toddler. These guys were always one of Brighton’s best loved bands, with a massive cultish following of devotees who would pack out every gig, drink the bar dry and terrify the locals on their rowdy way home. I don’t think I’m being over the top by saying they felt like a phenomenon at the time, producing two sparkling albums that showcased world-class songwriting, musicianship and unique style. Unfortunately the band never managed to get that big break that they deserved at the time, everyone in the know felt they should have gone platinum, been all over our TV screens and toured the world but, frustratingly, word of mouth just couldn’t travel fast enough. Perhaps they were too radical, their originality a sort of a curse in a risk-averse music industry.
It was a miserable night in June and I was feeling grumpy as hell as I wandered down the hill through thin sheets of rain, getting soaked for the second time that day. Reaching deep inside myself I tried to gather the requisite enthusiasm for The Flaming Lips show I was about to see, but it just wasn’t there. I wandered through the doors as the clock was striking nine and in the time it took me to shuffle into a decent position in the stalls, Wayne Coyne had somehow managed to emerge onto the stage without causing a spectacle! It was surreal as hell, as he thanked the small crew of devotees who had given him the screaming recognition he deserves. The house lights were still up and everyone – from the crowd to the crew to the musicians on stage – seemed a little thrown by their sudden, inconspicuous arrival.