Tag Archive: ash mandrake

vice_squad.pngOkay, I’ll get this out of the way first off and talk about a show that I have been pretty excited about since it was first announced. Those who know me are aware that I’m pretty fanatical about New Model Army and have been listening to and watching them play since the mid 80’s…yes I’m that old! But in all that time despite front man Justin Sullivan’s numerous side projects and solo ventures, somehow I have only ever seen him play as part of the full band experience. 

That all changes tonight as he plays The Victoria. Sullivan is a mirror for the trials and challenges of life, more social commentary than truly political, tales of ordinary people making their way through the world but also threaded through with optimism and a celebration of this strange and beautiful world we live in. Support comes from two of the finest acoustic players on the circuit, the engaging stories of Jake Martin and the deft and dexterous songwriting of Chuck SJ Hay.

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13407096_10153662274891463_6649436038957675124_n.jpgIn a world which seems ever more divided along political lines, knowingly supporting cash over climate issues, payola over peace and where a small very small sector of society pull the strings and calls the shots, wouldn’t it be good to have someone come along and make sense of it all. Not some dry political hack or firebrand orator but maybe a guy with a bass guitar, a hat and a bag of songs which point fingers, neatly satirises and gently ridicules the state of the world. It might not fix the problems but it sounds like a fun night out to me. Oh look, Grant Sharkey is at The Tuppenny tonight, what a co-incidence!

Meanwhile down at The Beehive, that excellent fellow Tim Manning is hosting his Acoustic Buzz night, a session dedicated to all things rootsy and this time around Boss Caine headlines the night, imagine Tom Waits singing Ryan Adams …if they had both had the good fortune to grow up in Yorkshire that is. Chris Webb is also on the bill, a finger-style folkie par excellence and your host will kick the night off with his song-blends of country and folk.

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10350429_860852760613038_2339669657931546296_nYou often hear of young bands trying to get that mythical “record label interest,” find a manager, getting “discovered” or making music that is “radio ready” or “on trend.” They are probably throwing these terms around sat in the snug bar of the Kebab and Calculator after their third gig in as many months in their college hall. This isn’t the seventies, those days are gone and it basically comes down to two things. Write great songs and play them to as many people as you can. One person who is proof that this strategy works can be found at The Victoria tonight.

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Lao Tzu famously thought that “when the wise man looks into space he knows there is no limited dimensions,” but I bet he didn’t have to get a whole weeks worth of gig recommendations into a space as small as ….well, as small as this!  So, Chinese philosophers aside, lets get down to business.


Tonight the first of many Halloween celebrations kick off at the Victoria in the form of The Bands and Burlesque Halloween Spook Ball.  The Filthy, Dirty, Blues Band provides the music, Li Laudanum, the gory stories and a whole host of Burlesque dancers provide the welcome distractions. Costumes are a must, for the audience that is, not so much the dancers.


Also seemingly in a strange fantasy world of his own, Ash Mandrake brings his strange blend of prog-folk meets Icelandic Saga with extra millinery supplies and homemade guitars to The Beehive.  If that isn’t “Good Enough” you might like to head up to The Arts Centre to catch nineties power-pop trio Dodgy (see what I did there?)


More big names at The Furnace on Friday with Hadouken (pictured) – new rave, dance-punk, call it what you will and the equally unpigeonholeable (it’s a word, honest) Monsta adding tech-soul, trip-hop and melodic synth washes to make a night of gloriously original, very now, music. Hopefully this is the start of the venues break from its tedious love affair with goth and metal over the last few years. With no competition for bands of this size in Swindon, this may be the start of a change of direction and a bright future.


It’s all a bit more traditional elsewhere. The 12 Bar is going for the folk thing with The Shapes, a band spawned in the same neck of the woods that produced Stornaway and The Epstein, good company indeed. Support is the mix of morose and mirth that is Mammoth and the Drum plus Benji Clements and Aaron Heap.


There was once a young girl from Hullavington…. hang on this is turning into an Edward Lear limerick. Try again. Many years ago there was a young local artist treading the boards who had a voice that could make audiences go completely silent. Now after stints at The Albert Hall, touring the States and glowing reviews, Dani Wilde brings her amazing acoustic blues to Riffs Bar, a sort of homecoming show if you will. The Beehive also plumps for soulful acoustica with Anglo-Swedish trio, We Ghosts.


Fans of Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae are catered for at The Victoria on Saturday night with The Erin Bardwell Collective. Not only do they have a new record out, Bringing The Hope, but also the gig acts as a sort of reunion night as both Erin and members of the support band, The Nomarks, can trace their roots back to local legends The Skanksters.


More nostalgic vibes can be found at The Rolleston with the 50’s rockabilly vibes of Josie and The Outlaw or the 40’s swing of King Pleasure and the Biscuit Boys at The Art Centre.


A couple of more sedate options for Sunday afternoon look like this. Mr Love and Justice host their regular Lazy Sunday Afternoon session at The Art Centre, this time they are joined by the dulcet tones of Jess Vincent as recently heard on Mike Harding’s Radio 2 show plus the wonderful Ethemia. At The Beehive you can catch R’n’B and swing grooves, courtesy of The Teddy White Band.


Later that evening and continuing with suitably subtle Sabbath song, Buswell play an stripped down show in the top bar of The Victoria, though if the band merely number in single figures it is probably considered low key. Also on the bill is Steve Poltz who when not co-writing hit ballads for Jewel can be found singing, ranting, storytelling, guitar shredding and generally being mesmerising with his own body of work.


Ed Sheeran pops into the Oasis on Wednesday but if you like the acoustic troubadour approach then why not watch Gaz Brookfield at The Running Horse instead. Great songs blended with wit, wisdom and charisma plus you can also find out about his Christmas No 1 Campaign. Whilst you are there pick up a copy of his current album, Tell It To The Beer, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a festival in possession of large ticket sales must be in want of good weather. Well, that’s what Jane Austin meant to say, but as it was 158 years before the invention of the modern music festival, as we know it today, she obviously had to wrap the message up in the social conformities of the day. And what a summer it has been to test such a statement. With festivals such as 2000 Trees resembling the Somme in the late autumn of 1916 and The Big Arts Day valiantly struggling through with a much reduced turn out, you would be forgiven for thinking that maybe the antidote to the British summer would be to hold a music festival indoors, maybe over three days, perhaps in multiple venues. Well, more on that in a few weeks.


Still, until then it’s not all bad news. Although the cancellation of Rowdyfest has just been announced, Festival on The Farm has run for cover and can be found lurking in warmth and security of Riffs Bar throughout this weekend, albeit in a reduced, bands only capacity. In brief, Friday is acoustic night; Saturday is tributes and cover bands and Sunday a mix of bands from The Graham Mack Band to Echo and from Penfold to Rocket Box.


Right, back to regular in-door matters. Tonight at The Victoria trash pop aficionados, The Starkers, will be unleashing their mix of melody, discord, harmony and mayhem on the unsuspecting public. We are all in the gutter and some of us like it there! Support comes from the driven, mathy sounds of Oui Legionnaires and kicking things off, eleventh hour booking, Secret Lives.


Down at The Beehive, Kola Koca will be mixing up any genres that cross their paths into smooth, jazzed out, folked off, rocked up, lyrically poignant masterpieces. More eclecticism can still be found at The Beehive on Friday with The Parlour Kats, whilst down at The Rolleston the Mason-Dixon line collides with The M4 corridor to shape the inimitable southern blues, rock and gospel sound that is Pignose.


More old time revivalism at The Victoria, this time with the skiffle, audience participation and general mayhem of Ode and The Bebops. If you can’t shake your moneymaker then a plastic bottle with some stones in it will do just as well.


Something wicked this way comes (these literary references are just flying out today) to The 12 Bar as local Hip-hop/Rap icon, AJ descends with a full band to bring to life his latest album, Tangle Your Cassette. The MECA, meanwhile,  has another of it’s trademark roller discos.


Saturday is all about the big guns as the 12 Bar plays host to another Southwest Hardcore event.  Pop Punk meets Hardcore, as MaLoKai, Snap Back, Go Out With a Bang and Starlight City bring the noise. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Faringdon Park there is The 2012 Children’s Fete. All ages entertainment from maypoles and circus workshops, storytelling and dancers, fairground and live bands, but more importantly…free cake.


Sunday’s Beehive afternoon session is ably filled by Mr. Love and Justice and if the idea of historical, socio-political, agri-folk appeals then this is the band for you. Imagine Richard Jefferies fronting The Byrds  – Sweetheart of the Roundway Down perhaps? Or Thomas Hardy writing for the Beatles; Hey, Jude (The Obscure?) Best just go along and work it out for yourselves. Farmers for fifteen minutes? Ok, enough.


The evening sees Charlie Bath and The City Marshals launching her new e.p. The Good Fall. Expect seductive melodies, understated music and emotive atmospheres to be the order of the day. Support comes from Phil King and Emily Sykes and it all happens at The Victoria. Meanwhile at the Rolleston, Ash Mandrake will be weaving his prog-folk, story telling magic through the use of twisted mythologies, home made guitars and strange hats. Both bizarre and utterly spellbinding.


And it remains a good week for rock fans as Monday at The 12 Bar; the mighty Mortdelamer will be building their wonderfully mellifluous yet often threatening soundscapes. Also on the bill are the darkly epic Scythes and the atmospheric and luscious slow burn majesty of IX.


And the final quote comes from Michael Fish.” Reports of a hurricane are unfounded” Yeah, right!

This may not be the busiest week for music but it is certainly one that pound for pound (can we still say pound and not be fined by the grey suited autocrats of Brussels?) carries a lot of clout. So we will start as we mean to go on with a band all the way from Milwaukee, a city famous for good beer, a life-sized statue of The Fonz and Direct Hit! who play The Furnace tonight. Part Ramones, part Andrew WK it’s raucous punk pop at it’s finest. Who better to support such an act as our own ska-punk superheroes, Slagerij, the almost unpronounceable Priceduifkes from Belgium and intense local hardcore super group, Scythes.


And if you think that’s good, wait till you get a load of what’s going on further up the hill. The Victoria plays host to a band who seem to be quickly rising through the ranks and it’s easy to see why. SkyBurnsRed (alloneword!) manage to mix the majesty and sweeping grandeur of the violin with raw alt-rock guitar and complex, eastern vibed rhythms. If that isn’t enough then support comes in the guise of The Naturals, up from Bristol and sounding like a collision between My Bloody Valentine and Sigur Ros, if you can imagine such a thing and The Playmakers who also have more than a touch of the post punk guitar swagger about them and who will be a playing a lunchtime gig at Rise Records before kicking this all off.


Middle Earth comes to The Beehive with the story telling meets folk-prog strangeness of Ash Mandrake.


Pun of the week must go to Fridays Beehive booking, the legendary Alan Clayson and the Argonauts…geddit? a strange and quintisentially English mix of John Otway style R’n’B, Tom Robinson song crafting and the camp and quirk of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.


A bit out of town but a gig so good it really deserves a mention, The Bell on The Green in Devizes has a great slice of old school rock, headed by ex-Terrorvision man Danny Lamberts current musical vehicle, Hellbound Hearts, a three piece forged of an industrial strength rhythm section and buzz saw guitars. Support comes from White Knuckle Bride, a band who I can’t recommend highly enough and Burnthru.


Saturday has something for every one. Back at The Victoria and Cheltenham’s finest alt-country punks Jim Lockey and The Solemn Sun who sit somewhere between the agit-folk of Frank Turner and the anthemic rock of The Gaslight Anthem breeze into town. If that wasn’t enough, Support comes in the shape of the haunting and haunted, sweeping and cinematic Old Colours and new kid on the block Mike Bezzer.


Teenage Kicks at The Furnace will cater for the young pop-punksers in town with a cracking line up headed by Beyond The Break and Hands Down with Year of The Thief and Post 12. For the really heavy serving suggestion however, the place to be is at The 12 Bar. South West Hardcore celebrate their first anniversary of running the heaviest sounds in town and as is only fitting they have an all-dayer where you can experience Rising From Death, Lifeline and Sleepwalkers to name just a few.



For the laid back Sunday lunchtime vibes, you can either head up to The Arts Centre to catch Mr Love and Justice and their blend of retro-pop melodies, folky vibes and socially aware lyrics or The Beehive for Cole Stacey, who not only matches skilful folk arrangements with heartfelt soaring lyrics, but who also comes with Steve  “Show of Hands” Knightley‘s seal of approval. More rootsy music can be found that evening at The Rolleston with the welcome return of ex-Alarm guitarist, Dave Sharp and his brand of blue-collar bluesy Americana.



In a week of originality, the best is left to last. Detroit popsters, Johnny Headband (pictured), blend synth driven space pop jams with soaring atmospherics and alluring warped disco grooves. It’s as much about the theatricality as it is about the dancebility and if one of the guys on stage at The Victoria looks familiar it’s because he used to be in Electric 6, though for some reason has changed his name from the very reasonable Smorgasbord, to the more unlikely Keith Thompson. Hardly the stuff of rock and roll!