29.10.18: As I’ve said previously about Lensmen that they are one of the best bands on the independent music circuit at the moment. I finally got to see them perform live Monday evening. A fair collection of vagabonds, strays and inquisitive minds are here tonight to witness them perform which is surprising given its a bitterly cold Monday evening outside. Lensmen are providing the headline set under the SongSmith event, which promotes new and emerging Bristol talent. Its a really solid performance, brooding bass, synths and beats hovering below twisted storytelling that grows in confidence as the set progresses. For those who prefer their music with intelligence then cast your eyes and ears in the direction of Lensmen. You will not be disappointed in my honest and humble opinion. My previous write up with links to the Lensmen’s music, future dates and adventures can be found here.
24.10.18: Nostalgia is a bitch. It’s something I’ve tried to avoid through the years ever since witnessing the Sex Pistols reunion, Finsbury Park, 1996 and quickly realising that hard-fought reputations and credibility can be deconstructed at an alarming rate. So it has come to pass for much of the bands churned out towards the end of the 1970s under the threadbare banner of punk.
Its the winter of 1977, at 16-years old, I met a mate Ste Birmingham (sadly no longer with us), and we took a bus from our hometown of Stockton on tees to the neighbouring town of Middlesbrough Rock Garden to catch the Tom Robinson Band (TRB) live.
It was my first gig without parental guidance, involving a stop off at a pub (The North Eastern) where I managed to drink 2 pints of Double Dimond Beer, witness grown men being men with their racist and sexist banter, masculinity overdrive, play my first game of pub pool (lose…badly), select a record on a pub Juke Box for the first time (New Rose by the Damned) and then subsequently make a fake excuse go outside gasp fresh air and throw up in the adjacent alleyway.
Within an hour or two I’m standing in an exuberant crowd of young men, full of testosterone, mostly dressed in homemade punk regalia singing, “Glad to be Gay.”
Today, such are the changes in attitudes that this would hardly raise an eyebrow, even in some of the UK’s most conservative towns and villages. Back in 1977, it carried the risk of a life-threatening physical assault from a mainly hostile public and police where queer bashing and racist abuse seemed a norm and a routine way of life. Nowhere more did these attitudes manage to incubate than in the pubs and socials clubs of 1970s north-east working-class England. This may feel like a lazy indictment, but nonetheless a cultural acceptance I was brought up in, which had many a complicated reason.
I recall a nervous confidence in Tom Robinson’s voice that night as he introduced ‘Glad to be Gay.’ A nervousness which is equally shared by an audience, initially not sure what to do with the singalong anthem. Sweat-drenched men who have been bouncing relentlessly to the guitar-powered set are now looking at each other, fuck it by the second chorus, a unified audience is wholeheartedly singing. Its one of those small moments in time when things start to change for the better.
Tonight (41 years on) I find myself at the Fleece, Bristol to capture Tom Robinson performing his classic ‘Power in the Darkness’ album in full and in celebration of its 40th year since release. First and foremost it remains a great (I mean a really great) rock album. Lyrically it is not only a reflection on how far we have come. It is also a recognition as to how far we have allowed ourselves to regress back into the darkness.
This evening I raise a glass to my old mate Ste and Tom Robinson’s bravery, his art, the man and a band of young men who recorded an album that had a very significant contribution in shaping my politics.
PS: I’ve still got my vinyl copy and its accompanying spray can stencil remains in perfect condition, unused….until tonight.
17.10.18: Those who don’t know the Thekla venue in Bristol. It can be an uncompromising place for bands to play. There is no hiding place and over the years I’ve seen several a band and artist who’ve ventured out of their bedrooms, garages, and studios to perform at the Thekla and find their abilities stretched and exposed to the elements of this old ship anchored in the Mud Dock, Bristol. Tonight there is an air of anticipation, willing anticipation from the 400 capacity sellout audience to witness Glasvegas perform their 2008 self-titled and platinum-selling debut album. A decade has vanished, but the album still holds as a classic blending guitar feedback that marries the harmonies of the Ronettes with James Allen’s brittle lyrics of loneliness, love, and loss. There no sinking tonight. The first 30 minutes are as near a perfect rock n roll show one could ever envisage and by the end of the night, it is fair to say they Glasvegas had nailed it with 400 people singing word for word the lyrics of each song causing the band to pause their performance, stand back, listen and embrace the feedback and importance many hold their seminal piece of work.
16.10.18: Ding, ding, round two and back in the ring with Idles after first experiencing their rapturous performance on 8th April this year (here) at the Komedia in Bath. A lot has happened in that 6 months. A second album, which achieved a top-five slot upon release, a world tour, TV/radio exposure and now a sold out UK tour, which has cemented them as the most essential band to emerge from these shores in recent years. It’s loud and fast here at SWX, Bristol as Idles rip through their set like the Village People on acid. Support is provided by the ever impressive Heavy Lungs. At the Bath gig, the live energy of the band carried them through their set, but here tonight with growing audiences their confidence is high and rightly so. It takes confidence for a band to bring audience members onto their stage, but it takes absolute confidence for band members to then hand over their instruments to audience members. The resulting noise is a complete shambles, a beautiful shambles, which adds to the raw energy of a band who are just on top of their game at the moment. There is a special relationship between band and fan base here. A relationship I’ve not seen since the heady days of punk in the late 1970s, or the stage invasions of early Smith’s concerts. Idles concerts are a celebration of positivity and life with all its faults and beauty. Something, so badly needed in an era where hate has become mainstream and fashionable. Tonight a rock band had their audience eating out of the palm of their hands, nothing new about that, but its rare in today’s over-produced, clean packaged musical output for a band to actually mean something beyond the product on sale. Thank fuck for Idles.
26.09.18: Ólafur Arnalds world is one of travel, he informs the audience in between one of the songs he performs tonight. When not touring he takes a break from his career by travelling more. The places he visits often influence the music he makes and on this occasion it was Nyepi the Balinese “Day of Silence.” He informs the audience that he found it amusing today when he found himself having a hot bath, on Hot Bath Street, while in Bath. On another occasion, he talks about his first visit to Bath around 2007 when he was the drummer in the hardcore punk band Fighting Shit.
It takes a leap of faith to imagine the guy in front of us who tonight is playing beautiful, fragile and evocative music once thrashed out punk in a small pub in Bath, but he also informs the audience that his grandmother was the greatest musical influence on the young Ólafur. The metal-loving Ólafur would sit with his grandmother to listen to Chopin’s work whenever they had visited one another. At her deathbed, Arnalds said “She was just lying there, old and sick, but very happy and proud. Listening to a Chopin sonata. Then I kissed her goodbye and left. She passed away a few hours later.” The final song tonight is Lag Fyrir Ömmu (Song for Grandma) and it all makes sense now.