Monday, 16 April 2012

Friday, 13 April 2012

Heart & Lung Unit, LVPO, Soho (4.4.2012)

A visit to the Heart & Lung Unit might well be a place you wouldn’t normally want to go to, but the treatment on this once a month night is comedy and music, and the prognosis is a bloody good time.  I’d found out about this event having met one of the organisers Glenn Guest at a Spoonful of Poison gig.  Glenn liked my poet loops mix enough to invite me to come down and play his night, and although I normally only play London on the back of work, this invite sounded like one not to be missed.   I booked a cheap ticket on and found a shit hole of a B&B for thirty quid and was on my way, though I nearly didnt get there.

Let the chaos begin!

After weeks of beautiful sunshine, on the day I was due to go to London, it snowed - BIG TIME!  I looked out the window in the morning and there was a foot of snow on the ground and the traffic had all but stopped.  This was after two weeks of glorious sunshine.  I could hardly believe my eyes, or the bad timing, but I understood the way these things work – from chaos comes order, and after a few hours the gritter lorries sprung into action and the commuters had all turned round and gone home, so the roads were clear.  The show must go on.

Some hours later I arrived to a warm welcome at the upmarket LVPO just off Shaftsbury road with my pal Buck Theorom (phot right).  Buck is a talented writer and musician who plays in a number of bands including Lunar Engine and Book of Buzz.  Buck and I had arranged to do a one off musical collaboration and worked out a track whereby I would produce the live electronics, and Buck would come up with the words – all without a rehearsal.  It could all go horribly wrong, but I like that kind of risk, when you’re not quite sure what will happen next, as per my recent experience at Manchester's Hotch Potch.

By the way, while I think of it, here's a link to Buck's book:

Heart and Lung takes place in the basement bar which is a small space into which a friendly audience had gathered by the time I'm on the mic.  It’s a bit of a musical first for me as this is the only time I’ve taken the whole kaoss rig down to the big smoke.  I got the loops coming out of the loops and the poetry followed.  I played ‘Here come the words’, ‘Good year for the spiders’, ‘The Smells of London’ and ‘Disappeared Friend’.  Then Buck joined me for an improvised ending with something that had never been played before, and it worked surprisingly well.

Now let me tell you this, London can be a tough gig for outsiders, and I’ve played some of those gigs, places where the beautiful people gather and they don’t want their lovely ways polluting with the likes of me.  Superficiality reigns supreme and performances are judged by the latest fashion or who is present in the room.  Places where the performers are consumed by the desire for fame and frozen by the fear of it.

Thankfully, the Heart and Lung Unit is not one of those nights, just like the wonderful Spoonful of Poison, it has the feel of an all embracing environment where the variety of acts on offer are wide ranging and hand-picked for quality, and an audience willing to give anything a listen appreciate the difference, appreciate the openness, and even appreciate the moments when everything collapses into chaos and improvised madness.  I guess what I’m saying is, I couldn’t have asked for a better audience than the one me and Buck got on this night in London.

Buck and I are followed onto stage by Russell Swallow & The Wolf, a classy acoustic two piece combining electric piano and guitar.  Unfortunately, Buck and I missed the first half of their set on account of getting hugs from a cowgirl in the back stage area.  Ant Smith follows with some in your face comedy and poetry that challenges any delusions you might have had that this was a middle of the road sort of a night.  Glenn (who is also compere for the night) describes Ant as a marmite poet/comic and he's right about that judging by the deeply mixed response to his set.  Catherine Paver (the friendly cowgirl) plays some unique songs about horses and throws in some effective reverb for good measure, and then paradies a Kate Bush song (see picture left) about the frozen North, but doesn't mention the snow.  The dinner party rapper The Duke!! Duke Hancock combines jazz backing tapes with pieces of comedy spoken word such as "The Revolution will be Available for Download!" and to finish Eccentronic, described by Glenn as a lunatic couple in shell suits, take us through a set they are working on for the Edinburgh fringe.

The formula is a simple one at the Heart and Lung Unit and it comes in the shape of 3 bands, 3 comics for 3 quid, and the night has the feel of something that is evolving into bigger and better things.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Art Farmers Open Mic, New Beehive Inn, Bradford (14.3.2012)

There is something good happening in Bradford right now.  For starters, there’s a brave new monthly magazine called ‘HowDo’ (see cover shot of Issue 3 below) that is establishing itself as a positive voice for arts and entertainment in the city.  HowDo describes itself as an inclusive cultural magazine by the people of Bradford, that gives a platform for expression and a means to communicate cultural happenings.  Then there is the intriguingly titled group of ‘Art Farmers’ – a collective of like minded artists, musicians and creatives who have dedicated themselves to putting Bradford firmly on the cultural map, and have also established this once a month open mic at The New Beehive, on the outskirts of the city centre (see poster left).

If you’ve read my book, or any of my other blog posts, you’ll know that I have a preference for the eclectic and varied open mic night.  So the Art Farmers Open Mic had immediate appeal to me, the name suggested something curious and different – growing your own music and entertainment in a unique micro-climate.

The New Beehive is a wonderful venue and one in which the decor and dim lighting worked together in a way that made me feel like smoking had never been banned and gin was still sixpence a bottle.  I went back in time when I entered its old world rooms and only the wall paintings gave the game away, as the images of famous rock stars and singers are scattered randomly around the bar.  

I get talking to Doug Thompson who is a key person behind the Bradford uprising and HowDo magazine.  An artist in his own right, he is also a serial networker and before long I’ve been introduced to a sculptor, a graphic designer, a poet and a musician.  Time slips by through interesting conversations and then I notice all the seats are taken, and there’s little in the way of standing room, the place has nicely filled up with performers and listeners alike.

The compere, a skilled musician by the name of Jerrad Barraclough (pictured below with hat) kicks off the night with a song called Fat Chance.  Then Jerrad introduces the next guy as Harris, who takes us through a story song about stalking the Deli Lamar, which goes down a treat.  Ben Clarke reads two poems, the first is a clever piece called Epidermis and the second is called Waiting for Breakfast.   The poetry gets a good hearing at this open mic, which isn’t always the case at music open mics, but you get the feeling here that the audience are up for anything and will give everything a fair proper listen.

A singer called Ben is joined by a cajon player and its always good to hear a bit of rhythm moving things along.  Toes are tapping and heads are nodding, except for one guy in the corner who a little worse for wear, has fallen asleep at his pint.   Then Steve Pass reads a treat of a three minute story about a lad who was sent to school with pig tails, presumably through a misguided attempt by his parents to toughen him up.  When he finally gets his way and has the pig tails removed the piss taking doesn't stop, it just gets worse, as all his fellow pupils snear ‘Where’s your hair gone Piggy Becky?'  It’s easy to listen to something like this and not appreciate how much work goes into the words and I’d like to hear more short stories of this quality at open mics.

Then it was my turn and I played ‘A Good Year for the Spiders’ and ‘Smells of London’ and was knocked out by a positive response.  I mean you can never be sure what people will make of the live electronics mixed with spoken/sung words and I've had my fair share of knock backs, so it felt good to be appreciated for my efforts and I even got to play an encore.

After Poet & the Loops there’s a full band fronted by Sam, who had been doing the sound, they play some upbeat blues and ska tunes.  And then a singer called Katheryne (see pic below right), who it turns out has only played here once or twice before, plays some gentle and thoughtful pieces which the audience seem ready for.

There were more quality players too, but I'd fallen into an odd conversation with a drunk who took ages telling me of a place I should play somewhere I’d never heard of, and then finally got to the whole point of the conversation and asked me for a pound - "on a point of principle".  I'm still not sure what that principle was, but the band played on and it all felt like a very special kind of night, the type that doesn't come along very often, so I gave him his quid and he seemed happy at that.

There's some great things happening in Bradford right now courtesy of the Art Farmers and HowDo magazine.
[Photos courtesy of Douglas Thompson and Art Farmers Bradford]

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Open Mic Travels - OUT NOW!

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Hotch Potch, Manchester (at The Thirsty Scholar)

Not an open mic, but an art and music event well worth coverage on this blog, HotchPotch is a veritable feast of art, music, workshops and dance brought to you by Zuzanna Zukiewicz and Tony Bolton, with a lot of help from their friends and volunteers.

I came to hear about HotchPotch as a result of playing Tony's open mic (that he organises under the name Tuesday Tony) at The Thirsty Scholar, a friendly pub beneath the railway arches next to Oxford Road station in Manchester.  The Thirsty Scholar includes a superb theatre and clubbing space upstairs called the Attic, which is where much of the HotchPotch art and film takes place.  Having done a ten minute spot of the digital beat poetry Tony put me onto Zuzanna and we arranged a Poet & the Loops gig as part of HotchPotch in March.  It turned out to be a proper good night that kicked off with a workshop on how to make your own guitar and an exhibition of art by Martin Lynch-Smith (sample picture top left), followed by belly dancing, short films and a couple of bands.

At the next event I was in a shot gun musical wedding with the musician and actor Nig Richards.  Nig had run the guitar making workshop in March and the notion of combining Nig's blues orientated guitar with digital beat poetry was all Tony's idea - which meant we could blame him if it went horribly wrong!  But part of the philosophy of HotchPotch (as the name clearly suggests) is to mix things up and take a few risks. 

Nig and I hadn't rehearsed for our first public outing and our improvised session started off somewhat cautiously until we gradually found our musical feet, and there were a couple of the pieces which I don't mind saying worked very well.  Particularly the ones where Nig was playing a guitar made out of a toilet seat (plenty of 'crap' jokes to be had from that combination).

There were also short films showing upstairs ranging from comedy to hard hitting drama, the latter of which included a film called Shed (see pic right) which worked on the viewers assumptions about a situation involving an apparent violent thug and racist.  Shed was made by Storm Maker Pictures who are also working on another dramatic short called Trauma due for release any time soon.

The March event included up and coming Manchester band The Bacillus who are playing out a lot at the moment it seems.  They kicked off the set with the magnificent Silent Runner, and also played I Can't Adapt To This Prison You Call Society which has to be one of my favourite song titles in a long time.

There is so much varied stuff going on at a typical HotchPotch night its difficult to catch everything, but there are more of these nights planned, and the next one is on Sunday 15th April at The Thirsty Scholar.  Get down there for what will no doubt be an eclectic mix of all kinds of everything, and if you're interested in performing, running a workshop or exhibiting, have a word with Zuzanna or Tony - they are always on the look out for new wonders and precious things to include.

HotchPotch e-mail:

Sunday, 26 February 2012

The worlds best open mic!

Twelve steps to create the perfect open mic (a personal view)

Having travelled to over one hundred different open mics in different venues around the UK - I came to the conclusion it was time to write up my top tips for what makes a great night for everyone involved (audience, performers, organisers and venue).

1. Find the right venue! If the place is already a known music venue this is good, but not essential. The right venue and the right management should make musicians, performers and their friends welcome - and not dictate what can and can't be heard.

2. Agree a night and keep it simple.  The third tuesday of every second month of the year is not easy to remember for those of us with damaged memories!  Whether its once a week, or once a month, get the night fixed and get the word out.
3. Make sure it is truly an 'OPEN' open mic.  Good nights are when anything goes (as long as it doesn't involve shitting on the stage - see previous blog) and all styles of performers are received with equal enthusiasm.

4. Following on from the above, actively encourage a diverse range of musicianship and performance.  Non stop singer-songwriters with guitars (all night long) can become a tad boring, its good to have a range of musicality going on.

5. Publicise the night and keep the information up-to-date whether through a facebook page or e-mailed newsletter etc.  There's nothing worse than arriving at an open mic and finding its been cancelled and no-one could be arsed to tell you. 

6. Make sure you've got a decent PA and several mics (plus functioning mic stands).  I'm not talking top notch gear, but it should work and preferably be operated by someone who knows the kit.

7. Do it for LOVE, not for FAME!  Obsession with being succesful in the music industry clouds judgement.  It can also make a hostile environment in which only those deemed suitable for the stage, or a part of some musical clique, are accepted to the stage.

8. Give performers something back.  A recording or film of their performance is a nice touch, a free drink is also appreciated.  It needn't cost much but again, makes for a friendly atmosphere in which musicians are appreciated for their endeavours.

9. One song is not enough!  Give performers time to play two or three numbers so they can reveal something of themselves (I'm not talking body parts here).

10. Set up a booking system that is fair to everyone.  I would recommend: first come, first served, ideally at the venue, on the night.  In this way even if people don't get to play if they like the night will come back and make sure they get  to play next time.

11. Become a compere!  I've been to many nights where the performers set up, do their bit and pack away without so much as a take it or leave it.  It doesn't take much to introduce the acts and also to thank them when they've finished.

12. And finally, get paid for your hard work. If you're the organiser of one of these nights you'll know it takes a lot of work and the venue is taking the cash at the bar on what would otherwise be a quiet night.  Your hard work should be repaid at a fair rate.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Open Mic Travels - OUT NOW!

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The Royal Oak, Edinburgh - Part 2 (16.2.2012)

The Royal Oak is on Infirmary Street and has been home to traditional folk music since the 1960’s.  It is housed within a complex of buildings that date back hundreds of years to when the people of Edinburgh feared leaving the enclaves of the city for being attacked by the English.  Its said that the situation led to the building of the first high rise flats, as space was at a premium within the walls of Edinburgh.  Read more about it by enlarging the next photo.

As per my last visit the musicians were assembled in a corner to the right of the entrance.  This time they included a mandolin player, a violinist and a guitarist who were running through a cover of Walking After Midnight by Patsy Cline.  There was a small crowd of Japanese and European tourists assembled near the bar and they looked as if they were getting quietly hammered on the many whiskies and real ales that were on offer.  There were also some locals out enjoying the music, and a woman listening in as she created golden chains of jewellery for sale.  The atmosphere was a friendly one and perfect for the non-amplified folk music, for which the place has clearly become worldwide famous.

I supped on a quiet pint listening to my favourite singer of the entire night, a guy that I later discovered is called Bobby Nicholson (see viddy below) and also plays in Rantum Scantum (recommended to me by Misk Hills Mountain Rambler).  Bobby had the perfect amount of dry humour in his music which I think I’m right in saying was a mix of traditional and home spun songs.  His vocal style employed an effective rush of words that fit between neat sequences of guitar playing. 

I didn’t get to play in Edinburgh this time round, mostly because there wasn’t a night suitable for my own style of music making, but I still had a good evening soaking up some sounds I wouldn’t normally listen to and enjoying the layers upon layers of musical history and currency that Edinburgh has to offer.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh - Part 1 (16.2.2012)

Edinburgh is built on Edinburgh. You may think you’re at level zero, but there’s always another level right beneath where you’re standing. You don’t have to spend too long in the place to discover some of its layers, but there are always more layers to be found.

My night out begins at the Voodoo Rooms, a gem of a place in the heart of Edinburgh and not far from Waverley Station.  The Voodoo Rooms boast wonderful interiors and its own glittering ballroom set up for all kinds of live music and performance.  On this night it's hosting a rhythm and blues jam organised by Ash Gupta.  I’ll admit I’ve not been to many ‘jam nights’ to date as my preference is for the eclectic and wide ranging open mic, but there’s always a first time and besides, there were no open mics to be found in Edinburgh on this particular evening.

A solo guitarist called Roger kicks off the proceedings with songs he has penned himself, adding that the riffs are mostly stolen as there’s not much more you can do that hasn’t already been done with 12 bar blues.  And this is one of the reasons why I’ve avoided these kinds of nights to date, because the few jam nights I've attended have always taken the easy route into what I can only describe as formula blues.  But Roger’s second song is a strongly emotional piece called Photograph, recalling various pictures of friends, relatives and loved ones in each verse.  It’s a powerful bit of song writing and nicely supported by some harmonica playing.  I’m working on my harmonica playing at this time so I listen intently to how he handles the 'diatonic scale'.

The house band are on after Roger and I miss a good deal of their set as I’m waiting to get served at the bar for what seems like forever.  There aren’t many people waiting with me, but the bar staff are making fiddly cocktails that take ages to prepare - half alcohol half biscuit beverages (with carefully placed coffee beans on top) that cost a small fortune.  I never knew there was so much in it and felt quite boring when I asked for a pint of Guinness.  By the time I got back to the house band they had worked their way through the 50’s and 60’s, to arrive at some 70s rock, overlayed with some highly skilled and enjoyable lead saxophone.

The compere reminds us that this is a jam night and anything can happen, because anyone can turn up and play and you never know who is going to walk in.  However, as the context of the evening is very much rhythm and blues it feels like anything that does happen has to remain grounded in those musical rules.  I don’t think an impromptu piece of live electronica or spoken word would go down well with the audience!   

But it’s a friendly spot and a relaxed atmosphere, as two more musicians turn back the hands of time once again with a Rolling Stones version of Route 66.  You can tell these guys love what they’re doing so it rubs off on you whether you’re a (Rolling) Stones fan or not.  A blues band from Glasgow follow the house band and they include another excellent saxophonist.  If you love your rhythm and blues you’ll love it here.

I enjoyed my few hours at The Voodoo Rooms, but as the night was still young (for Edinburgh nights are always young) I also had time to go back to one of the venues featured in Chapter Seven of my book, and listen to another genre of music that comes with its own set of rules and candid expectations - folk music.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Mr Wolfs, Bristol (25.1.2012)

I'm of the opinion that Bristol follows its own distinct musical path.  You'll hear things in Bristol you're less likely to hear anywhere else on account of a long tradition of eclectic, electronic and dance music influences.  I'm not saying it's better than other cities, it's just different - which makes it a great place for music.  If you read my book you'll know where I'm coming from, Bristol has its own musical micro-climate.

This night at Mr Wolfs is run by musician Jack Baldus and takes place every week on a Wednesday night.  Mr Wolfs is an independent bar and music venue in an area of the city centre where there are mostly generic pubs and clubs to be found.  The focus at Mr Wolfs is on the latest up and coming music (and sometimes art) with a stage that is set squarely looking out through the three areas of the bar.

Jack Baldus and the house band start the musical proceedings at around 9.30 with a nice funk influenced stretch of music.  The house band is made up of Jack on Nord keyboard, Dave on drums and a superb bass player whose name I didn't catch.  They pack a powerful musicality and you wouldn't know that they hadn't rehearsed, particularly given the way they work the jazzy audio into a genius cover of a Radiohead tune.

A nice mix of R&B tunes follow the house band from a duo called Miss Mally and Miss Twist, and an acapella vocal goes down well with the decent crowd that have gathered here on this night.  I follow up with some of the digital beat poetry and it feels good to be playing in Bristol again.  I finish my set with 'Disappeared Friend'.

Disappeared Friend (unmixed) by Poet and the Loops

A full band play some upbeat rock classics such as Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd and OK, this isn't the Bristolian uniqueness I've been going on about - but it's still fun.  A poet called John from Birmingham treats the audience to just the right amount of ranting, dealing skillfully with a bit of friendly heckling.  An MC follows and she is accompanied by a multi-talented keyboard player, who also adds some neat human beatbox (unlike the version I described in my recent Manchester post).  The MC gets some audience participation going with a piece about having had way too much to drink the night before.  And the house band finish the open mic to a now packed out Mr Wolfs.

Bristol is always a great place to play and listen to music.  So if you're out and about on a Wednesday night you should definitely check out Mr Wolfs open mic.


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Sunday, 22 January 2012

The Chemic Tavern, Leeds (19.1.2012)

The last of Old Man Pie's trips to open mics in January takes us to North Leeds and a wet and windy night in Woodhouse.  The open mic here is every Thursday (except the first one of the month) at The Chemic Tavern and is run by Cloth Cat Studios.

Cloth Cat is a music and educational charity which supports people living in inner city Leeds through a range of music based activities including courses and events, plus this open mic.  They run projects for young people, those with mental health issues and the homeless, as well as a programme of community based courses in partnership with Workers Educational Association (WEA).  Every city should have a Cloth Cat.

The night is organised by Mike Jolly of Cloth Cat, who also does loads of other interesting stuff for the Leeds music scene, and the compere is local musician and guitar teacher Graham Young.

The musical proceedings kick off with some humuros ditties from Matthew Evens, including a piece about putting a lovenote on the windscreen of the car of some woman he fancies, only to see it taken away by the angry boyfriend.  Guilty Pastimes are up next, though Graham introduces them as Guilty Pasties!  Which is an equally good name in my book.  Guilty Pastimes are a duo and continue the theme of upbeat and fun tunes, even managing to include the word 'oesophagus' in one of their songs about Codeine I believe.  Rod follows the Pastimes with some well played slide guitar.

I Was Odd by Old Man Pie

Me and the pie guys play three chaotic and swift numbers including I Was Odd (see above), Small Talk in a Small Town and Less is More.  It feels like we've only just started when we've finished and that's always the draw back as a band when your playing open mics - but rules is rules, and its time for the main act, the Mike Medved Band.

The Mike Medved Band are musically very tight and highly skilled musicians.  They play some rock and blues numbers with a strong American influence on account of Mike's origins in the USA.  The friendly audience give the music a great reception and the room has now filled almost to bursting.

After the Mike Medved Band the night returns to the open mic proceedings.  They've got the balance just right here with a half hour or so for the main act, and then back to the open mic'ers and the three songs rule.

It's always a special night here at The Chemic and the link to the community based activities make it even more so.  The audience are a good mix of students and music lovers from across Leeds and further afield - with the occasional nut job thrown in for good measure.  You can find out more about the work of Cloth Cat Leeds on the website here:


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Friday, 20 January 2012

Open Mic Travels - 25% Discount to end of January 2012

25% Discount

The publishers are offering 25% off the price of Open Mic Travels until end of January 2012.  Just follow the link to lulu from the 'Buy Now' button and enter the coupon code below.

Coupon Code: LULUBOOKUK305
Coupon expires 31 January 2012
£50 Max Savings

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Monday, 16 January 2012

B-Lounge, Brunswick, Manchester (13.1.2012)

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Another night out for Old Man Pie, heading over the moors to the centre of Manchester and an open mic run by the group Naymedici.  This night is designed for bands as well as solo performers - and takes place every Thursday night in the B-Lounge (Brunswick) near Picadilly.  It's a mostly word of mouth event and always well attended due to the organisers high standing in the Manchester music scene.

The evening begins with a random drunk in a suit and tie subjecting us to some mediocre human beatboxing.  It was entertaining in some ways, but I've heard this type of thing done well and when its good its brilliant - this wasn't one such moment.  During the second piece he tells the audience, predictably, "if you (k-chish) don't like (k-chish) my shit (k-chish) you can (k-pfff) suck my (kchish) dick!"

Things pick up when Edwin Miles follows the suited beatboxing with some great acoustic songs.  Beginning with an upbeat number called Narcissist.  A guitarist called John also has some equally good songs, but doesn't get such a fair hearing on account of an upsurge of drunken banter from the suited beatboxer and his pals.  But this is the middle of Manchester and you have to expect things to get rowdy every now and again.  I don't catch the name of the next player, with a head of long hair, attacking his guitar with relish whilst he shouts out a vocal.

Then Charly Tiefenauer (pictured) gets the whole place jumping with some quality guitar work and rockin blues and country rock pieces.  Everyone has stopped talking to listen to Charly play, particularly when he is joined by a skilled cajon player, who has rolled up his trouser leg and taken off his shoe to get the full effect from the instrument.  I was searching for a sample of Charly's work to include here but could find very little of film or publicity that did his strong set justice. 

Charly is a tough act to follow and it falls to the pie guys.  We play a similar set to the one we did last week in Hebden, but this time include a rendition of Mackerel Fishing.  The audience are brilliant fun and I completely forget the words half way through one song on account of laughing at the umpa lumpa dancing that has broken out at the bar.

My Lyrical Mind introduce their set with some nicely reverbed guitar and violin, a piece of music that is experimental and right up my street.  I get a free CD off them later and exchange it for some pie music and poetic loops.

We leave the B-Lounge to head back over the Pennines at about12.30 and there are still musicians arriving to play.  It's a late one here in the middle of Manchester.  My only regret was that I didn't get to see Naymedici themselves perform because Josh, the lead singer, is unwell.  So I'll leave this blog note with one of their songs, the most excellent and eclectic 'Lobster Boy'

Gig News:
Just heard Naymedici, Deaf Sirens and Sam Haine and The Bloodflames will be playing Ducie Bridge, Corporation St, Manchester on Saturday, 28 January 2012


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