Tom Grennan: The Next Big Thing

Tom Grennan

Union Chapel, Highbury – 20th April 2017

Bringing the rowdy passion of the football terraces to a 19th century Gothic church is an unlikely combination from a rising pop-soul star, but Bedford bluesman Tom Grennan absolutely nails it.  Continue reading

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Walking in an Indie Wonderland.

HACKNEY WONDERLAND 2016

Mystery Jets

We Are Scientists

Stealing Sheep

Oslo, Hackney – 15th October 2016

We Are Scientists and Mystery Jets headline an up-and-coming bar-based festival in Hackney. Either it’s 2008 or that time machine has worked really bloody well.

Hackney’s ambition to retain its status as the capital’s premier trendy hangout in the face of an increasing onslaught from the ever more hip environs of Peckham are nobly boosted by the ongoing success of mini festivals like the Jack Daniels/Spotify-sponsored Hackney Wonderland. Sprawling across five of East London’s cosier and more chic live venues, the alternative music medley severed up here boasts dozens of exciting new acts, as well as a few of the circuit’s veterans thrown in for good measure. Oslo’s Saturday headlining combo of Mystery Jets and We Are Scientists fall firmly into the latter category, although it’s unlikely that outside of university house party playlists you will have heard these two on the same billing for quite some time. Tonight, however, they deliver a potent one-two blow, much to the delight of a predominately late-twenty/early-thirty-something crowd looking to wind the clock back a few years.

As the sun sets over this still rawly industrial nook of the city, Stealing Sheep are up to transition a pleasantly inebriated audience into the business end of the evening. The Liverpool three piece supply plenty of ethereal vocal harmonies and a dance-pop edge, courtesy of trancy synths and unexpected modulations that make you feel like the floor has just shifted beneath you. Accompanied by pounding drum machine beats and electro bass lines, they represent a delightful melange of current L.A. darlings Haim and Warpaint. Clad in matching skin-tight polka dot onesies and dark circular sunglasses, there is undeniably a bold stylistic element to their stage presence resembling an updated and re-gendered Kraftwerk. The outlandish look is supported by foundation-shaking bass riffs and synth explosions that rattle the ceiling, courtesy of off-the-wall but strangely danceable tunes including Not Real and Genevieve, which weave in a mystical tranciness reminiscent of fellow Brit dream-popper Bat For Lashes. Watch this space – the electro girls from the North West are only just getting started. 

It’s encouraging to know that the full throttle lifestyle of today’s indie rock bands doesn’t necessarily  guarantee a fraught, dramatic burnout within half a decade of releasing a promising debut. New York’s charmingly geeky duo of Keith Murray and Chris Cain – known professionally as We Are Scientists – are testament to this. In the face of a relentless touring and recording regime that has spanned over 14 years and five studio albums, they are still as lithe and spritely as ever, sharply dressed in black shirts and suits that cling with impressive tautness to slender frames. Little seems to have changed in the intervening years since 2005’s landmark opening gambit With Love and Squalor – the between-song banter is still off-beat and unpredictable while the sharp grooming and indie fringes are still proudly on display, albeit with Murray now being entirely grey and Cain having lost the signature pornstar ‘tache of yesteryear.

A relentless, high tempo set proves that the naughties indie survivors still have plenty left to give. The generous array of first album favourites served up – including barnstorming crowd pleasers It’s a Hit, The Great Escape and Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt – are still performed with a youthful vigour, while newer offerings such as 2014’s intricately riffed Dumb Luck and the gargantuan choruses of latest LP Helter Skelter’s lead single Buckle may tread familiar ground but are testament to a persistent level of quality control from the quirky pair.

As if needing to further confirm their eternal vitality, a swaggering version of Textbook sees Murray ditch his guitar and throw himself into the crowd, mic chord trailing behind him, as he manages to belt out an impassioned rendition despite being mobbed and groped by a sea of overly excitable hands. When he eventually clambers back to the stage, even more damp and tousled than before his ambitious foray, he has the look of a man who has just survived a particularly ferocious encounter with the Tasmanian Devil. “Thanks guys!”, he gasps, still looking a little shell shocked.

Following a couple more rounds of Red Stripe and Vodka Tonics, Mystery Jets drift in on a sea of distorted noise before shifting into the sonic, verbose deluge of latest album opener Telomere, after which they kick the mood up a notch or two with Serotonin – a loving tribute to the endorphin-cranking effects of MDMA that has the crowd in full voice. A brief moment of reflection between songs also sees the band reveal that they haven’t toured with We Are Scientists since those crazy days of ’06, as if to supply the response to an unanswered question on the lips of many in the audience wondering the same thing.

Ahead of 2008’s chant-along classic Half In Love With Elizabeth, frontman Blaine Harrison whimsically offers to take everyone “back in a time machine” – a statement which fittingly captures the nature of tonight’s lineup perfectly – as if confirming the collective desire to briefly relive an era when the band were throwing out Laura Marling collaborations and threatening to crack the Top 20 Singles Chart. All the while bassist Jack Flanagan continues to shoot out pithy quips while grinning perennially from under a mop of peroxide blond hair.

By the time the band turn to time-honoured classic and house party mainstay Two Doors Down the ebullient crowd are more than ready to receive it. Like shooting fish in a barrel, trotting out this musical trump card to a large group of indie brigadiers, in various stages of intoxication and vividly reliving their misspent youth, is guaranteed to elicit the kind of enthusiastic but poorly coordinated dance moves which inevitably follow. When the band eventually call it a night the reception is unsurprisingly rapturous. And a little hazy.

It’s a night of vintage indie nostalgia for all those who can remember the genre’s dizzying heyday of the mid to late naughties, but even for the objective onlooker this is a night crammed full of feverish delight from both crowd and bands alike. A Wonderland of sorts it most definitely is, and with edgy, alcohol-glazed and tent-free festivals such as this to offer, Hackney certainly looks set to remain a hub of hipster pilgrimage for a good few years to come.

Words: Henry Wickham

Psychedelic-folk Troubadour seduces North London.

Father John Misty

Roundhouse, Camden – 19th May 2016

A Rihanna cover, a reference to his ‘Beyonce Money’, and some explosively sensual dance moves. It could only be Father John Misty.

“I get propositioned almost every night on tour… by a really hot sounding dude”, Josh Tillman announces mid-gig, following a string of progressively more explicit declarations of love from a somewhat over-zealous, husky-voiced punter. “Growing up, this was always the dream. To look out over a sea of sexy bros”. To be fair, seeing him tonight in full flow, brilliantly illuminated and cavorting centre-stage while belting out tracks from his Father John Misty albums – in between a plethora of casually deployed, off-hand witticisms – it’s difficult not fall for his rugged, hirsute, and yet somehow slightly effeminate charm.

From his pseudo-preacher stage name to his startling resemblance to a sharply tailored, be-suited Jesus, there’s always been an oddly religiously lilt to Tillman’s alter ego, and tonight that parallel is further enforced by a live show which oscillates between the wildly evangelical and the salaciously hedonistic. Tracks like Hollywood Cemetery Forever, Tillman’s angular, distorted expression of his inner grunger, see him back-lit by a hazy red glow that leaves him as a dark, gyrating silhouette. It’s at moments like this that you feel as though you’re stumbled into some seedy bordello where Father John has been booked as the evening’s entertainment. By contrast, Only Son of a Preacher Man feels like a born-again revival, without the self-righteous idealism, as the lighting switches to a clean white, Tillman’s hair haloed from behind, making him look all the more like the modern and openly flawed messiah he so often resembles. It’s difficult not to stand up in the metaphorical pews and sing his praises to the rafters.

There’s a temptation upon hearing the predominately acoustic-driven, country-tinged offerings from  Father John Misty’s two studio LPs Fear Fun and I Love You, Honeybear, to assume that a stripped back, folksy performance will be the natural incarnation for his music to assume on stage. This a myth which Tillman sets about dismantling with his gloriously unrestrained set that sees him belt out this collection of tunes with a visceral intensity that will give you chills – never more apparent than when the usually dulcet Holy Shit descends into an aggressive, atonal bombardment that assaults the senses, before meandering back to more familiar territory for a rousing finale, underpinned by some soaring vocal harmonies.

Elsewhere, the digitised, synth-propelled True Affection becomes a house rave, replete with Epilepsy-inducing pink strobes, while his performance on Bored in the USA is more reminiscent of stand up gig than a rock show as he wanders across the stage – every gesture and flicker of the eyes designed to elicit a reaction from his captivated audience. He draws laughs effortlessly with interspersion of some well-placed profanity, while the gentle tinkling of ivories and profound subject matter underscore the whimsical delivery with a potent social commentary and delicious sense of irony. Finally, set-closer I Love You, Honeybear sees the charismatic showman launch himself into the crowd, surfing the grateful wave of hands for a period before dropping into the sweaty midst of his dedicated following.

As if to cap off a night where the mystic shaman remains as delightfully unpredictable as ever, Tillman returns for his encore unaccompanied (“I was halfway to the bus but my business manager dragged me back… ‘They’re dying for it’, he told me”, the maestro shares with a wry smile) busting out a tender rendition of I Went to the Store that works in a gleefully-received nod to his recent revelation that his music has been used on a new Beyonce track, before launching in to a down-and-dirty cover of Rihanna’s latest smash hit Kiss It Better. “I’ve never heard a more moving tribute to going down on someone”, he says by way of explanation. When he’s done re-working this chart-topper it’s difficult to imagine the Bajan songstress herself delivering a more sexually-charged performance. Bizarrely it seems exactly what was called for – “You’ve got to pull a rabbit out of the hat, having just fucking stage-dove”, he adds, recalling the earlier fictionalised managerial conversation backstage.

When the curtain closes following a suitably ferocious outing of Ideal Husband it’s not hard to see why Father John Misty is being touted as a must-see live act. With Tillman the undisputed star of the show – he jokingly berates his guitarist for “speaking into the mic”, reminding him that “it’s my show!” – the momentum looks set to continue for the mesmerising impresario. With or without his Beyonce royalties.

Words: Henry Wickham

Punk Goddess warms up indie rock’s Latest Champions

The Crookes

Misty Miller

Oslo, Hackney – 24th February 2016

Delivering a punchy one-two combo in Hackney’s trendy restaurant-come-bar-come-live music venue are spunky Brixton support act Misty Miller and northern Romanticists The Crookes. In two sets packed full of crunching guitars and catchy vocal hooks there is plenty on offer here from two artists who collaborated last year on the latter’s B-Side single Ex-Lovers, and tonight they rattle through an uplifting batch of hits-in-waiting with visceral aplomb. Continue reading

Special Guests and Suitably Quirky Surroundings

SOFAR SOUNDS

Johnny Lloyd

Marika Hackman

Mystery Jets

Imakr 3D Printing Store, Clerkenwell – 25th January 2016

As the customary array of London hipsters cram themselves gracefully into yet another impromptu performance space, provided courtesy of Clerkenwell’s 3D printing studio Imakr, the air of anticipation is even more palpable than usual. It is a rare occurrence that Sofar Sounds, a pioneering movement synonymous with supporting unsigned and lesser known acts, flirts with the mainstream. And yet as the trendy crowd – a sea of rolled up trousers and bare ankles – perch themselves on picnic blankets and, for the lucky few, a lone sofa, the air is abuzz with rumours that this evening’s show will feature a headline slot from a band who have released five studio albums, scored a string of Top 40 singles and sold out arenas across the country. As if to nonchalantly confirm the social media gossip, Mystery Jets bassist Jack Flanagan reclines casually on the aforementioned sofa, grinning and laughing as though he’s kicking back in his own front room. Tonight, Sofar plays host to Indie rock royalty. Continue reading

Bombastic Homecoming for Corduroy Rockers

Public Service Broadcasting

O2 Academy, Brixton – 29th November 2015

Public Service Broadcasting have promised that tonight’s set will be special. They do not disappoint. In a set bedecked with pyrotechnics, dancing astronauts and a replica of the first Sputnik space craft, the be-tweeded heroes of alt rock still take centre stage, resplendent in their customary cardigans and bowties. Add in to the mix a full choir, string section and choreographed brass ensemble and you have the makings of a truly triumphant homecoming gig.  Continue reading

Ethereal performance from rising songstress

Kyla La Grange

Oval Space, Bethnal Green – 19th November 2015

Smoke steadily fills the stage, glowing electric blue as it catches the iridescent hue of the stage lights. A string of wild flowers coil up the vacant mic stand, while pink fairy lights wrap around a slender archway that takes centre stage between the twin synth and drum rigs of Kyla La Grange’s touring party. Drifting into this hazy wonderland comes the waif-like songstress herself, arriving barefoot with a delicate whirl of her kimono. Small and slender, with a coquettish charm and cheeky wit she resembles a mischievous forest spright let loose to dazzle and entertain the eager throng gathered in the modest East London performance space. Continue reading