Saturday, 30 April 2011

Musical Stereotypes # 11 - Check Shirt Jamie

Check shirt Jamie sings soppy songs about ex girlfriends and how they screwed him over in favour of better looking guys.  He never stands and strums, he always sits and picks - and he listens to folk, americana (that's pc for country) and the blues.  He is also a fan of Mumford and Sons (who aren't really any of the above).  His check shirt is from Super Dry (a present from his ex before she dumped him) but it might also be from Top Man or River Island - as long as it looks like its from Super Dry.  He has tried growing a beard, but so far without success.  Most of his songs use variations on Bm and Gm, with a very occasional cheerful major. 

You'll likely see Jamie frequenting the many candle lit open mics up and down this land.  His main aim at this time is to form a band that is willing to play his songs (and maybe a few covers), but he's been struggling to find the 'right' musicians.  They keep leaving him because of musical differences - the main one being that his music is so depressing.  As a result, he is now writing songs about about ex band members and how they screwed him over in favour of better bands.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Acoustic Club, 1:22 Live, Huddersfield (26.4.2011)

The Acoustic Club takes place every tuesday night at 1:22 Live in Huddersfield.  The night has been running for over 10 years and the 1:22 website estimates over 1500 different performers have occupied its stage.  Some of the nights I've written about in this blog haven't even lasted 8 months, let alone 10 years, so I reckon the longevity of the Acoustic Club is a great achievement.

1:22 (a bit like The Mad Ferret in Preston) is a venue that does loads of good work for live music - encouraging new bands and local music, and also bringing in some great artists from all over the world.  The Acoustic Club is part of this picture, with a stage that is open to anyone who wants to sing a song, tell a few jokes, bang a drum or maybe even act the scene from a movie, anything goes - as long as its unamplified, because on this night, 'acoustic' means exactly that, totally unplugged.

Now I have to say I have a preference for electrification.  The availability of a PA makes for a more diverse range of musical possibilities.  But I also think as a musician its good to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and try different things - that's how you learn and develop your skills.  Without a PA there is only you, your voice and the instrument, and it if it goes horribly wrong, it really doesn't matter on this friendly night.  You can still walk away having learnt something about what works, and what doesn't.

Stevo is the compere for the night and he does this in good humour and in a way that makes everyone welcome.  He also introduces the 'shit quiz' which is so called 'because..., its shit!'  Thankfully, this is a reference to a rubbish quiz, rather than the shit performance art I described in my last blog.  The prizes for the quiz are equally shit, and on this night include a shot glass for one, a broken bar sign, a plastic fork and a tin of obscure something.  Each question in the quiz follows each performance, and as each performer gets only one song, the night moves quickly once it gets cracking at around about 10pm - its a late start and a late finish down here at 1:22.

Caleb begins with a song about the acoustic night.  Marky plays a Naked Ladies cover.  I play an Old Man Pie tune on accordion (rather badly).  Ken plays a lovely 12 string guitar.  Dan plays Clear Blue Sky, a cover of the masterful Chris Whitely tune.  And between each performance there is a shit question (something like):

What was the name of the sheep that scientists cloned in the 1990's?
(a) daisy
(b) dolly or
(c) rose, from Marsden. 
Marsden comes in for some stick on this night and if you don't know Marsden (which most of you won't) you should visit it some day to find out why.

Joshua Blinkhorn is a regular here at 1:22 and he plays a jazz piece 'I can't get started (with you)'.  I've seen Josh play a good few times now and I love what he does.  I would have liked to have heard one of his own uniquely crafted songs, but he certainly does this jazz number justice.  In fact, last year Josh let me put out a couple of his songs on my own 'virtual' record label and I've included them here for your listening pleasure (check out the free guitar tuner while you're at it):

There are more performers. Will plays a cover of Nothing Else Matters by Metallica.  Liz plays a Crowded House song and Natalie plays Billy Jean by Michael Jackson.  Tom and Andy, a father and son duo, play a bluegrass number.

The Acoustic Night is an assett to Huddersfield's musical goings on and gives everyone a fair hearing.  Because the night is unamplified a shhhh policy is enforced so if you want to go somewhere for a good old chin wag this night isn't for you.  But if you want to listen to people of all abilities and skills simply enjoying playing a little music, or you want to have a go yourself, or if you like shit quizes, the club is definitely worth a visit.

For more info check out their website:

Monday, 25 April 2011

A Spoonful of Poison (Number 2)

When you push the boundaries with a night that embraces everything, you're taking a few risks and supporting experimentation.  But sometimes experiments can go wrong!  A Spoonful of Poison experienced this in the shape of the Russian/Austrian couple who I mentioned in the previous blog.  Their 'performace art' if you want to call it that, consists of live defecation and dirty protest.  Vis the Spoon, who runs the night, sent me the video as proof and I've linked it here but..,


The 'performance' takes place around 4:20

Mad Ferret, Preston (20.4.2011)

A glorious spring evening on the M62 with the light of a descending sunshine glittering on a trail of vehicles heading West.  And this unstoppable road is split in two by a stubborn farmer who would not be shifted by the Highways Agency and Government departments.  The farm remains intact and still working as the road divides around it.  Supine Orchestra, the group I met in Coventry, is playing a sweet mix of mandolin and guitar as I pass by the highest point of the highest motorway in the UK, and it feels good to be heading for the M61, and on to an open mic at The Mad Ferret in Preston.
The Mad Ferret is a music venue in the heart of Preston that I'd heard good things about from my mate Jimbob who plays bass for Ottersgear.  A place that had dedicated its heart and soul to bringing quality music to the town.  The open mic is every Wednesday and run collectively by a range of local musicians such as One English Pound, Vox Population and Sully and Becky.  My contact for the night is Russell and he has assured me this night takes all comers.
The walls are covered with music posters of a rich variety of bands past and present.  Good to see a Wild Beasts poster glued to a post and also the classic Ramones poster over by the stairs.  The April gig listing boasts sessions by Middleman, Curtis Eller, Johnny Foreigner, The Crookes and many more.
Dan Jeoffrey, who also helps run the night, kicks off with a few songs on acoustic guitar, including a nice piece about making up his mind.  Then another Dan takes us through some covers and adds a little whistling.  The world always seems a better place with a bit of whistling in my book.  Chris Ward plays a V shaped metal riff and reproduces Anarchy in the UK and Symphony of Destruction by Megadeth.  He finishes with one of his own renditions and its great to hear a bit of electric guitar for a change, beating back the acoustic guitar takeover of the past few years.  I follow with the kaoss beat poetry and enjoy a bit of light heckling from a friendly bunch here at the Ferret.
One Man and his Beard plays some original songs, again on electric guitar, but this time in more of a punk rock vein.  You got to just love this guy.  He plays a song called 'Bring Back Top of the Pops' and there's some brilliant audience participation going down from his 'Pans People' who are formation dancing at the back of the bar.  It turns out he's made a video of this number so I've included it below so you can see what hilarious good fun this is.  Tom Robinson (not the one who gave us 2-4-6-8 Motorway) plays a light reggae number and then its the turn of the featured performer The Bees Neice.
The Bees Neice is from Oslo and Manchester I believe and she (for there is only her) starts with a song about a stolen bike and a request for the return of said bike rom the nob head who stole it.  She has a good voice and plays some sweet songs but I realise time has slipped through my fingers again and I'm going to have to leave before the end of her set.
The Mad Ferret is a top notch venue that supports music in all its guises and forms.  They got a quality PA down here and the open mic can cope with full bands, as well as solo peformers.  I'd recommend it and also many of the great gigs they've got lined up for the coming month.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Spoonful of Poison - The Drop, Stoke Newington, London (13.4.2011)

Following my last blog about the awfulness of Britains Got Talent, here's where the real talent is in this great Nation of ours - overlooked forever by the corporations and producers in favour of dumbed down rubbish.


The last time I was in London at The Earl of Camden, a blues guitarist called Laine told me of A Spoonful of Poison, an anarchistic open mic that took place out in Stoke Newington. When I tracked it down on the internet it sounded like my kind of time; welcoming musicians, bands, poets, performance artists, comedians, storytellers, magicians and even people who hit each other with sticks. This is a twice a week event run by Vis the Spoon.

So it was I found myself at The Drop, which is underneath the Three Crowns on ‘Stokey’ High Street. One of those basement venues with the smell of a damp dungeon, it felt like the right kind of place for bizarre goings on.

I got talking to Piers, a big guy with a beard and braces who it turned out was from Doncaster and working down in London during the week. Rather than sitting in and watching the telly, he frequented some of London’s finest open mics and introduced people to folk singing.  A mix of three hundred year old songs, as well as his own compositions.

A guitarist by the name of Oliver kicked off the night with some self penned tunes. There are two rules at A Spoonful of Poison and the first is strictly no covers. I’ll tell you about the second rule later, and it doesn’t involve singing. I’m with Spoon on the no covers ruling because its always more interesting listening to what people have come up with for themselves. There’s often more passion and personal involvement in original music.  Though I'm not sure how three hundred year old folk songs fit into that category.

A comedian by the name of Johnny Armstrong told us of how he took his wet suit to the dry cleaners and they didn’t know what to do with it.  He told us of a worm that fell through a worm hole and he’d seen that exact same worm a year ago. Turned out this was his 500th gig, quite an achievement I reckon and good on him for that.

I was on next and went through Iambic Vision, which is long rambling fantasy poem about missionary work and how it can do as much harm as good. It’s a poem I’ve only ever read once in public and then to a disinterested bunch of beanie hats in Sheffield. They were more taken with their mobile phones and iPads than with what I had to say, and there was no changing that. So I’d never read it again, but I like that piece so it struck me if there was ever a place to try it one more time it was here.  I followed with Smells of London and The Return of the Bed Bugs – the latter of which I’m turning into an animation .

Spoon was under pressure from a last minute change of venue and a PA he’d never worked with before, but he still does a great job of keeping things rolling.  Its good to see an organiser who is so involved in the art and entertainment of the night, and he does this twice a week.  A little later he told me of the second rule and it stemmed from a previous happening at this event, though at a different venue.  A Russian/Austrian couple who might be considered ‘performance artists' had 'performed' (as in bowel movements) all over the stage, and then smeared the result on themselves. Its not clever and its not original. So the other rule is ‘no live shitting!’

The almighty Jazzman John Clarke was up next with his carrier bags full of poems.  John must be in his sixties and a real live relic of the beatnik poetry scene. I’d seen a clip of him on youtube reciting his work over a jazz band. This guy is a natural born poet and at ease with his word smithing. One of his poems called Cautionary Tales particularly struck a chord and I’ve reproduced some of it here (hope John doesn’t mind):

“Never touch a wasp until it tells you its full life story
Never spill the beans on a banana skin
Don’t wind up an orange with the promise of a toffee apple
Don’t pour chocolate sauce over left over peanuts”

This is almost lyrical and I guess that’s why I like it so much, being half musician half writer, I’m drawn to that kind of thing. This country needs people like Jazzman John Clarke to talk us out of the mess we're in.

Becky Fury, a comedian, told us of her life in Pekham where she still shop lifts pick n mix and there’s a shoe shop that sells two shoes for the price of one. She was followed by another quality comedian by the name of Kristoff. Kristoff is from Belgium and he happily explained that Belgians are the only people who tell you where they are from with an apology. Dangerous T adds some hilarious material, including a wonderful piece about dealing in Night Nurse.  The comedy on this night is complete and accomplished stuff.

After this point things go a little hazy because I’d downed a few too many pints and finished with the worst of all night caps, a spoonful of loopy juice by the name of JD. I remember with fondness a woman on a megaphone blasting out emotive words over an electric guitar, and then an effective mix of poetry and acoustic guitar by Rob Monk and Jim Rhesus.  And I liked the way Rob’s poetry reading drifted into a vocal instead of pure spoken word.

The night was a mini-festival full of interesting surprises. A Spoonful of Poison is an entertaining and innovative event which truly welcomes all comers from all walks of life. I’d have liked to have seen more people in there, but maybe the last minute change of venue put paid to some attendees. As always with these kinds of nights I met some great folks and my only regret is that the Russian/Austrian couple didn’t turn up to perform (as it were) – because that really would have been something to write home about.

Iambic Vision