Monthly Archives: July 2011

A cracking advert for a gig

There was a curious spectacle on Glasgow’s Buchanan Street at lunchtime today: there was a busker outside TGI Fridays, and people were paying attention. In fact, a crowd of the size usually reserved for breakdancers had gathered. Maybe it was good timing, maybe it was the brilliant sunshine, or maybe it was the quality of music.

Busking was a guy going by the name of Passenger, aka Brighton singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg, with a wonderfully sharp yet sweet voice, Passenger, who used to be a duo, has been going for a few years, but isn’t terribly well-known yet, and this, it transpired, was a sort of suck it and see advert for his gig at the Captain’s Rest this Friday. And it was working. With an open guitar case steadily filling, CDs for sale and a friend handing out flyers, everyone who stopped to watch for even a few seconds knew exactly what was going on, and people actually began to flag down the guy with the flyers. After he finished with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer, a large chunk of the crowd made their way over to buy CDs or simply say hello. The human statue further up the street was looking a bit miffed by the end of it.

Passenger busking on Buchanan Street

The proof on whether or not this translates into ticket sales will be in the business of the Captain’s Rest on Friday, but having seen the band before and watching today’s display, I can heartily recommend snapping up a ticket, if there are any left.

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Mercury 2011

The first, natural reaction upon seeing the Mercury Music Prize nominations list is to have a shout about who has been carelessly omitted, and quite wonderfully, Wild Beasts are currently trending on Twitter as outraged fans do just that, but should we really be surprised? Over the past few years, the Mercury list has been embarrassingly predictable. The usual big breakthrough albums, a couple of obvious choices, the token jazz/world music act few people have heard of, and someone with an acoustic guitar, and the degree of outrage that this has happened again is unnecessary.

The big commercial hitters this year are Adele, with record-destroying second album 21, Katy B and Tinie Tempah. And fair enough. Big singles, big albums people have connected with. They’re not, perhaps, the works of art Mercury used to claim to endorse, but then neither was M People’s Elegant Slumming, and lest we forget that it received the prize in 1994. The token jazz act is there in the form of Gwilym Simcock (and oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if the jazz act won? Just once?), while the ‘who?’ acts include Ghostpoet, Ana Calvi and, for anyone outside of Scotland’s central belt, King Creosote.

This year, there are two previous winners returning for the crown: PJ Harvey and Elbow. PJ Harvey is a fair enough shout – Let England Shake is her best album since 2001’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea – but a repeat nod for Elbow is unnecessary given that they won for their previous album, and the lumpy Build a Rocket Boys is already not ageing well. Twitter is also full of people moaning the Radiohead’s King of Limbs hasn’t been nominated, but here’s the thing: Radiohead do not need to win the Mercury Music Prize. They have long been established as the finest band of our generation, and since that they have been nominated without winning three times, giving it to them now seems pretty needless.

The deserving nominees, then, are Metronomy for the gloriousness of The English Riviera, and Everything Everything’s sublime Man Alive. But chances are neither of them will win. Looking back at the past few years, the winning act flip flops between the blindingly obvious choice and the least expected winner: 2004 – Franz Ferdinand, 2005 – Antony and the Johnsons, 2006 – Arctic Monkeys, 2007 – Klaxons, 2008 – Elbow, 2009 – Speech DeBelle, 2010 – omnipresent advert soundtrack providers The XX. So it could very well be Gwilym Simcock’s time to shine.

Ach, whatever, Wild Beasts were robbed.

Full list of nominees:

Adele  – 21
Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
Everything Everything – Man Alive
Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam
Gwilym Simcock – Good Days at Schloss Elmau
James Blake – James Blake
Katy B – On a Mission
King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
Metronomy – The English Riviera
PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy

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ReporT

Tea at 10.30

So in case you’re wondering, this is what the main stage at T in the Park looks like at 10.30am. We arrive at the site after a few wrong turns about 10.15, give our names, get our wrist bands and are pointed in the right direction. Minimal faff, which is always good, and it with the exception of a slightly muddy tramp to the gig, it isn’t really any different to any other guestlist place. Well, except for the fact I actually have to get on a stage and sing.

Healthy T tent

Healthy T tent. Not pictured: choir

We’re on early, in the Healthy T tent, so after a wander around the strangely quiet site, we find the Healthy T area and the rest of the Arches Community Choir for bit of a lyrical cram session and a mildly embarrassing vocal warm up in the middle of the area in front of a few bemused people.  And by the time we’ve done that, it’s time to go on stage, and so there isn’t really any time to think about what we’re doing, and more importantly, no time to freak out about it.

That the Healthy T tent is actually a rather lovely comfy place to sit works in our favour, and we sing to a decent crowd, even though it’s only 11.45, and plenty more people are standing outside. Our set goes well, the Miss Dynamite cover (I’m not joking – yes, it’s Dy-Na-Mi-Te) raises laughs in the right places, and the audience seems to enjoy it. We even have a drunken ned shouting stuff, dancing and air humping at the back during the last song, which is as good a T in the Park accolade as you could hope for, really.

Obligatory cheesy wristband photo

Obligatory cheesy wristband photo

So the rest of the afternoon (various factors led to this being a half-day trip) was spent trying to cram in as much as possible. The odd lunchtime slot is filled by Fun Lovin’ Criminals, and fluke timing means we get to the main stage just as they begin playing Scooby Snacks, complete with Fast mouthing along to the sampled Pulp Fiction dialogue. It’s now ancient and over-played, but the crowd loves it, as is the case with House of Pain: after an enjoyable enough but largely unrecognised set, they wear the albatross of Jump Around proudly, and the by now pretty wasted audience loses its dignity.

On the T Break stage, Kristina Myles is throwing herself into a bouncy set of what can only be described a decent funk-pop, while there is a lot to see on the BBC Introducing stage. Unfortunately, we missed the excellent Kid Canaveral but you can watch highlights of their set here.

Avoiding the main stage is crucial for most of the day, and despite our best efforts, snatches of Ke$ha and N-Dubz still find their way to our ears, but we head over to see the Manic Street Preachers. Their set is a list of crowd pleasers – Motorcycle Emptiness, If You Tolerate This, Faster, A Design for Life – and it’s executed with power and obvious passion, but on the tea-time crowd, it falls slightly flat.

Everything Everything

A not-brilliant pic of Everything Everything

Undoubted highlight of the is Everything Everything. Scheduled shamefully early, they still pack the King Tut’s tent and are effortlessly brilliant. They open with Qwerty Finger, note-perfect and almost unbearably intense: at the breakdown about two-thirds of the way through, Jonathan Higgs’ voice defies belief as it soars over the high notes. The quality doesn’t dip either: Suffragette Suffragette finds a new power live, while My Kz, Yr Bf and Schoolin prompt singalongs, an improbable feat given the complexity and sheer volume of their lyrics. On record, they’re absorbing; in the flesh, utterly exhilarating. For proof, you can watch a good chunk of their set on the BBC.

 

So that was my T in the Park 2011. I missed all the headliners (and Friendly Fires, but did hear their first song on the way to the car park), wasn’t drunk, didn’t fall in the mud and left while I was still positively predisposed towards other human beings, so it probably bares little resemblance to anyone else’s experience of the weekend.

View from the big wheel.

View from the big wheel, with looming storm cloud.

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T Time

This weekend, I find myself in the improbable position of performing at T in the Park. As a massive festival grump, I haven’t been at T since 2004, even as a reviewer, but braving possible thunderstorms and inevitable mud, I will be trekking up to Balado tomorrow morning to sing on the, erm, Healthy T stage.

Last October, I joined The Arches Community Choir (I’m somehow completely in shadow in this video so I can be heard but not seen) out of curiosity, and after a few performances, we started getting pretty good, and have somehow wound up being invited to sing at T. The Healthy T stage is maybe not going to secure us the biggest of audiences, but it’s still pretty intimidating: actually performing at a festival is something I never thought I’d ever had the chance to do, so putting grumpiness and hatred of festival fashion, festival loos and T’s unique chicken shit stench aside, I had to do it.

Thankfully, the Saturday schedule works out so that I can possibly fit in Everything Everything and Friendly Fires (and House of Pain if curiosity gets the better of me) before heading back for civilisation – I have the safety net of Mr Shaky coming to pick me up so the danger of unleashing the festival grumpus is minimal. Fingers crossed the storms stay away – I’ll let you know how I get on.

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When bad pop happens to promising people

Having waited the requisite time for the general public to have almost forgotten who she is, last year’s X Factor fourth place Cher Lloyd is now punting debut single Swagger Jagger. She was reported to be devastated when it was, somewhat inevitably, leaked early, but surely that must pale in comparison to when she was first presented with the song itself. The title means nothing, the verses and grating and the chorus is mostly Oh My Darling Clementine. That one of Cowell’s songwriting monkeys and indeed most of Sony think this is an exciting, vibrant representation of what a young pop star should be singing is, quite frankly, embarrassing.

Cher Lloyd is by no means an artist, but compared to the usual X Factor fodder, she was at least interesting, she had a spark, a bit of something different. An interesting song would have done it – it was enough for Diana Vickers, whose debut single Once was a sparkling, inventive piece of pop, something no one was expecting from her. Yep, with the right song, there was potential to turn Cher into something perhaps not credible, but an interesting take on today’s pop puppet – God only knows what kind of shit Matt Cardle is going to be pedalling when his album is duly released once this year’s series gains momentum. 

Similarly terrible is Nicola Roberts’ Beat of My Drum. With Cheryl Cole’s solo efforts mostly awful and Nadine Coyle’s mostly unheard, it’s time for the interesting one in Girls Aloud to come forward. And she has tried to do something different, there’s no denying it, but Beat of My Drum is a frustrating mess: a faux American accent on the titular lyric, the main idea stolen from Justice vs Simian’s We Are Your Friends and a grating siren noise under the chorus. With Nicola forging ahead in fashion, the single is less about the song and more about the opportunity to experiment with a variety of increasingly mental outfits across a three-and-a-half minute video.

That neither Cher Lloyd nor Nicola Roberts has come up with a decent single is maybe not a surprise, but it’s the degree to which both have gone wrong that disappointed. We could have had two interesting new pop talents, and what we have is Now compilation fillers and a fast track to HMV’s two for £10 section. Oh well.

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