Some people bemoan a lack of artistic development in record labels these days. This is hogwash, of course. For sure, it may be a tad easier to get dropped too quickly, but in reality it has always been that way. Back in 1962, Bob Dylan’s debut album shifted only 5,000 copies in its first year (admittedly, a decent sum these days), reaching No.13 in the UK but getting absolutely nowhere in the States. Dylan was nicknamed “Hammond’s Folly” by waggish Columbia execs. They wanted to drop him. John Hammond, who discovered him, fought his corner hard, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There was a time when Pretty Vicious were touted as the UK’s next big rock band. Championed by Huw Stephens, as well as some huge shows with the likes of Stereophonics in their native Wales, the band swiftly signed a record deal with Virgin EMI. Then, everything went quiet. They silently (and mutually) parted ways with the label, and had to regroup. Now signed to Big Machine Records, the band are currently moving through somewhat of a renaissance, and their Brighton show was another step on the road to recovery.
There are many beautiful things to love about Brighton, especially when it comes to music. One such thing is that whenever a particular buzz band comes to town, on a tour that has seen them play bigger venues in the likes of London and Manchester, they’re always squeezed into a 150-capacity room. As such, it almost doubles up the atmosphere and, for sold out shows like Easy Life at Green Door Store, makes them seem like momentous occasions. As a result, due to Easy Life’s spellbinding power, too, this was one of the finest shows of the year and, for a band on their first headline tour, this looked and sounded like a band playing to triple the amount of people.
The Dome must be the only Brighton venue that doesn’t have a mirrorball. Thankfully, this doesn’t detract from the wildly beautiful country-blues of Prinz Grizzley, aka Christopher Comper, and his three-piece band, His Beargaroos. They are slowly winning the audience over. There is barely anyone watching at first but it is probably the power behind the quartet that draw people in from the bar. Live, he is so much better than on record, a slide guitar sounding more desolate in the high ceiling above us. Comper’s voice is distinctive but comparable to Caleb Followill in range and intensity, howling at the moon from his trailer park or, at least, a remote farm somewhere in his native Austria. Going back to a time where music was a simpler beast, he pens love songs that are best listened to up a mountain wearing a cowboy hat. Prinz Grizzley and co are uncomplicated boys from “A little village in Europe” and, by the end of their set, I just want to hop in the back seat of their Americana-fuelled pick up and listen to them round the campfire every night. A big, big sound.
What else to do when the rain is lashing down and the wind is whipping you in the face but go and stand in a hushed room, watching two men perform some experimental music? Watching Group Listening could only be described as a ‘what the f*ck’ moment. As in, no one really knows what’s going on but at the same time want to know more about this peculiar duo, who seem awkward faced with the polite applause of a rather bemused Brighton. Their debut album, Clarinet & Piano: Selected Works Vol. 1 features ambient works from the likes of Brian Eno and Robert Wyatt – Welshman Stephen Black, on clarinet, is best known as Sweet Baboo (who has previously collaborated with Gruff) and pianist Paul is acclaimed in the genre of jazz and noise improv. Both are undoubtedly talented, using their instruments, cassette recordings and other manipulative techniques to create atmospheric instrumentals. However, it appears that the crowd was not expecting something so, well, weird because few seem to get it; amazing given that we are in a city named this year as the hipster capital of the world, surely a place that this sort of thing was invented for.
“This is my favourite city”, gushes Tiger Lion’s Clementine Blue in her alluring French accent. Dressed in a pale silk kimono which sets off her perfect red curls, she looks every inch the intense electronic goddess that she is. The two guys with her on guitar and drums look slightly less passionate but ably accompany her purest vocal, as does the sampling box she uses to add variety and depth to their songwriting. Obvious influences are St Vincent and Tame Impala, but also classic painters – Blue is a visual artist herself and cites Hokusai’s famous Prussian blue as another inspiration for their new single ‘Black Sea’. Although this all sounds a bit pretentious, Tiger Lion champion brooding and atmospheric tunes that should put them yet more firmly on the map in Brighton’s gig scene, a fact Blue may be particularly grateful for. Her manner is confident yet modest, which, combined with a strong sense of identity, means that there is something compelling about them. “We’ve got two songs left”, she says, before looking at the promoter to check. “Haven’t we?” It appears not as she then turns to her bandmates to tell them that’s it. What a shame that the set was cut short. We shall look forward to the next time. Merci beaucoup.
When assembling a musical line-up it’s crucial to create a degree of consistency, or a sound that will entice paying customers to give over their hard-earned money. It’s here where promoter Smashing Blouse have succeeded. In bringing together Something Leather, Haze and Phobophobes, Smashing Blouse have not only created an excellent triple bill of brilliantly scuzzy psych-meets-post-punk bands, but they also conjured up an atmosphere that you just can’t artificially produce. Importantly, too, it was enough to get audiences braving the stormy conditions.
It’s testament to Brighton’s love for Nottingham three-piece Kagoule that when bassist Lucy Hatter cheekily asked for someone to buy her a beer, five minutes later she had one in her hand. “Works every time”, Hatter responded with her tongue firmly in her cheek. There’s always been a rapport between Brighton and Kagoule and their gig at The Prince Albert, fresh from the release of their second record, Strange Entertainment, will go down as a roaring success – both for the band and the tightly packed Prince Albert audience.
The latest band to offer a very modern voice of dissent in a world of discord, Manchester’s The Blinders steam into Brighton for a night of sweaty, intense and dark post-punk. First from an interesting line-up, Brighton’s Swoon. A fascinating, heady combination of punk and electro, they ignore the empty space that is initially present in front of them and seize the show as if it is their own. Their recent Fun Police EP release is one of the most exciting debut releases for some time, and there is a potent energy to their live performance tonight. Expect to hear a lot more about these in the months to come.
The complete antithesis to his former bandmate, Johnny Marr put on the kind of show that gets spoken about on the morning after for the right reasons. Warm, friendly, relevant, the tightrope between heritage and relevance – a fine balance at the best of times – walked successfully. One of indie music’s finest, and most beloved, guitarists showed just why he is still revered.