Tag Archive: black hats


532525_10151752635811804_1749102226_nIt’s funny how the different strands of past musical activity, the bands, the people, the places and of course the songs themselves, seem to weave in and out of your life, like a maypole lacing together ever tighter so that ever more tapes are running cheek by jowl with their neighbours. I noticed it today when two scheduled posts over on Dancing About Architecture popped up side by side and reminded me of how history follows you around.

Completely out of the blue, a new Black Hat‘s record came my way for reviewing. They were a band who I used to help get Railway Town gigs for, with my erstwhile colleague Gimli the tallest dwarf in Old Town, under our Songs of Praise promotional umbrella. And what a fine band they were too, a wonderful blend of Jam-esque punk edge, reggae back beats and indie chops all coming together to forge incendiary and most memorable anthems. But before the Black Hats, there was Chamfer, and that was where I first saw frontman Nick leading a band making beguiling orient meets occident sounds.

I first saw them at Level III supporting Space Hopper, a band who would shortly evolve into Belarus, produce one near perfect indie-pop album and fade out, though I would get to know some of them through subsequent bands, namely Dave Corrigan’s raggle-taggle roots outfit Good Things Happen in Bad Towns, whose music would later be the starting point for the brilliant Astral Ponies…also featuring Belarus’ mainman Lee Alder.

But I mention this because also crucial to the Space Hopper/Belarus story is Rich Millin, someone who was the tub-thumping better half to my bass lines in a couple of later bands, particularly for the red wine fuelled, folk frolics of Sweet Plums and for a couple of gigs, pig-town, country-punks, Black Sheep Apprentice. And this is where the other review comes in to play. Siamese Youth are a new outfit, based in Berlin and heavy on the 80’s synth=pop groove and they are being helped along their way by none other than my good friend Rich, who has made his home there for many a year now. Hence the review and the serendipitous timing of which prompted this nostalgic wander.

It’s a small world and every now and then something comes along to remind you just how closely knit and global village-like it truly is.

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SWINDON105_5Logo-300x186This week we have Simon Hawkins from Party on the Rec in Shrivenham and Jennie Rainford from Lechlade Festival. Music from Aural Candy, Jimmy Moore, The Shudders, Rumour Shed, Bateleurs, The Black Hats, Absolva, Rachel Gittus, Babylon Fire, Three Minute Tease, Port Erin.

play the broadcast here

1622127_840966529263202_504818935_nWhat have the following acts got in common. Empire, Oliver Wilde, She Makes War, Black Hats, The James Warner Prophecy, Vienna Ditto, Cursor Major, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour…. Give up? Well, they are all bands that you could have seen at Songs of Praise for free that have gone on to achieve national radio play, tour with name bands or receive decent coverage in the music media. If you feel like you have missed out on some great music..and you did then you have the chance to make up for it by catching this show.

On tour from Idaho, The Very Most play Camera Obscure/Beach Boys inspired indie and are in the country touring towards the end of July.

Listen to Wond’ring 

Joining them for the full tour are Glasgow dream-poppers The Yakuri Cable who sound like this…

Listen to Adventures in 1986

And joining them for the Swindon show are our own King in Mirrors who anyone with any discerning tatse on the local scene must be aware of.

Listen to Little Voices

So if Indie, post punk or underground pop is your sort of thing then this time you can get ahead of the curve and catch these bands at a free gig, something that you won’t be able to do for long.

More Information here

307317_10151453105276140_1745376414_nI think that it is time for a musical revolution. Who’s with me? Looking at the ever shortening list of live music available to watch in recent weeks, I am increasingly worried by the amount of young, original bands getting their music out to audiences in the form of live shows.  Musical change is built on revolutionary acts, from rock ‘n’ roll to punk to hip-hop to grunge to rave and beyond, but it seems to me that we have settled into a complacent groove of late, both on the local scene and the wider world beyond it. Maybe there are revolutionary acts being performed and I just don’t know about it, after all why would you invite an aging hippy to the party to hang around like someone’s dad waiting to give them a lift home.  Maybe the revolution has taken new forms and accesses its audience through streaming shows, free downloads and house parties, rather than the more traditional outlets. I don’t need to be invited to the revolution; I just pray that it is taking place somewhere. I lived through a few musical watersheds, it was amazing, everyone else deserves to as well.

So, enough rose-tinted retrospection from me and on with the week ahead.  Tonight Songs of Praise at The Victoria brings back into town one of the bands that have proved to be a bit of a success story over the last few years. Black Hats blend a modish, agit-punk drive with infectious hooks and crunching great choruses, imagine The Jam embracing the scope of modern technology and you are in the ballpark. Support comes from Devotion, a great writhing mass of post punk and shoegazy riffs, dream pop visions and the sort of indie music that sounds like it was made floating through space.

Ethereality of another type can be found in the guise of Jenna Witts at The Beehive, an acoustic artist who evokes pop and folk tradition in equal measure and whose maturity in song writing and pin-drop voice will astound you.

Friday brings us the stalwarts of the scene. Firstly The Teddy White Band play The Rolleston, mixing up good time rock ‘n’ roll, blues, swing and boogie from times past all glued together with honey-dripping saxophone. At The Beehive, The Blue Trees head far more down home with a weave of sounds that evoke the quiet bayous, the desert highways and the smell of Mint Julep being served on the porch. Sort of the sound of a Southern States roadhouse meets a Harper Lee novel….Tequila Mockingbird perhaps? Perhaps not!

The Victoria will be playing hosts to “top cover band” Penfold who do a neat line in classic standards both past and present.

As we roll into Saturday the offerings become more tribute and cover driven. The first is catered for at The Victoria with Oasish and Stereotonics doing their bit to ensure Britpop-ery isn’t forgotten and Bad Obsession at The Rolleston pay tribute to some of the less obvious songs of the classic rock and metal genre. One original reprieve comes in the shape of a nice big slab of alt-rock in the shape of Armchair Committee, Base 11 and Boss Cloth at Riffs Bar playing for those awfully nice chaps at Secret Chord Records.

Talk In Code (pictured) has come a long way in recent years. Having left their original “dad Rock” sound behind them. …their words not mine, they are now an of the moment rush of screaming guitars and pulsating synths. In the past Talk In Code used to be written off as the music that your dad might listen too. Now however they are the CD that your sharp-dressed, musically savvy, effortlessly cool, big brother refuses to lend you. Catch them with A Way With Words and Daniel James at The Victoria on Sunday.

Culture Vultures will be interested to know that The Swindon Recital Series at The Art Centre brings the oboe and piano talents of Nicholas Daniel and Paul Turner together to play selected pieces from French composers such as Saint-Saens, Debussy and many others.

Finally, Wednesday brings us to The Roaring Donkey and the acoustic skills of Aidan Moore whose mellow yet genre hopping style will find that he appeals to a wide range of punters.  Whilst you are there you really should pick up a copy of his recent album, So Far, So Good, it’s a cracker.

Library - 187So sang Justin Currie on Del Amitri’s finest musical moment. Well Justin, this time you were wrong  (though the line “American businessmen snap up Van Gogh’s for the price of a hospital wing” is genius.) I suppose it’s bad enough that our neighbouring towns, Bristol and Oxford, like to think of Swindon as a musical backwater, but it’s so much worse when the people of this town seem to be taken in by that self-fulfilling prophecy. Well this little musical musing is just to draw your attention to the brilliant musical odyssey I have been on over the last couple of weeks in an effort to restore your faith in the artistic capabilities and achievements of this town. Not my faith, I’m totally aware of how far above our image we metaphorically punch, and if you go to a few gigs you will be as well.

Chapter I – The Secret Chord

 

It all started a couple of weeks ago at Riffs Bar, where I had been asked if I would be interested in running a couple of shows a month along the lines of Songs of Praise, a well established night at The Victoria. With more out of town bands asking for gigs than ever, I saw this as a great opportunity to bring even more new music into town and so The Secret Chord was born.

As a bit of a launch party before the gigs started in earnest a bill of local singer-songwriters was put together, start with something familiar to get peoples attention. First up was Plummie Racket, a great front man when in full punked up- indie trash mode but in my opinion even better solo where his songs get breathing space and can be better explored and appreciated. Even by his own admission being slightly worse for wear and opting to take the opening slot, he played a blinder.

Si Hall used to be a stalwart of the music scene, from early punky days with Buzztone and later with one of the best band names ever “Blind Dogs For The Guides,” it was great to have him back playing again.  Still sporting an exceptionally powerful voice, well crafted songs and an easy stage presence it was like he had never been away.

The phrase “silenced the room” is banded about too often but let me tell you when Faye Rogers played one guy was thrown out for dropping pins, the noisy sod. Ethereal is also an over used word, mainly by me, but that is also a suitable description. Spellbinding, fragile…I could go on, but I need to save some of those descriptions for later on in the article.

All that was left was for Nick Felix; someone who I must admit has only just appeared on my radar (well you can’t be everywhere can you) to weave his intricate guitar style around his cleverly penned words and the night was done. A good turn out, considering the geographical hindrances of the venue and the appalling weather, a good time was had by all and a bit of money was also raised for Strummerville, the chosen charity of these new nights. As of April there will be two nights of new, unsigned and off the radar bands so check the usual places for details.

Chapter II – Praise Be!

Just under a week later and it was the turn of my regular night, Songs of Praise, to supply the goods. Only two bands instead of the usual three but quality certainly made up for quantity. Opening the night were Nudybronque, a band more normally found in the headline slot, such was the strength of the line up. They are a band that I have watched with interest, not to mention amusement, occasionally amazement and often for all the wring reasons. Having grown from an also-ran pop band they have flowered into a much more interesting proposition. Fuelled by underlying post-punk influences they now weave a darker thread through their music without losing the power, effective delivery and stage presence of their former selves. Infectious, addictive, charismatic and self-deprecating, all elements that will stand them in good stead.

Headlining were the awesome Black Hats, a band that I have been bringing into Swindon for shows for a couple of years now and gradually we are seeing a bit of a increasing turn out for this Witney three piece. Imagine if The Jam were still going, had embraced the technology and changes in musical fashion but had held on to that fire that lay at the heart of their songs. That is Black Hats. Punchy, atmospheric and able to throw amazing hooks, grooves and powerchordery (that is a word honest) in equal measure.

Chapter III – But Where Were You? (Incorporating supply and demand for the undemanding)

One band that played Songs of Praise last year that I couldn’t fit into this years schedule was The Manic Shine, the logical thing to do was to find them another venue in town to play so the following night I found myself at The Furnace in the capable hands of that awfully nice chap, Gig Monkey, and a four band line up of no small merit.

Through the turn out wasn’t great, but that is the lot of original music at the moment, all four bands played as if they were at Glastonbury. Tides of Change played an animated set of alt-rock, and I mean animated. There were moves going on there from bassist Doug Statham that I hadn’t seen attempted since Hanoi Rocks called it a day. Up from Salisbury, middlenamekill play a hard hitting, consistently solid set that seems to defy any obvious pigeon-holeing, except to say that it is great. Even better is their attitude towards marketing themselves. Wandering the audience giving away free albums is a great way to get your message across, not only do you put your music into the CD players of people who might not have otherwise bought the album, it’s the sort of thing people remember.

Being an out of town band, The Manic Shine played next and delivered a lesson in how to put a show on. A complex rock sound that incorporates funky grooves, Byzantine heavy deliveries, prog workouts and more riffs than you can shake a Jimi Hendrix at, all underpinned by triggered synths-sounds and chaos boxing. And they never miss a beat, entertain and enthral in equal measure and have a stage presence that is mesmerising. Young, talented and having the time of their life, it would be easy to hate them if they weren’t such lovely people to be around. Follow that SkyBurnsRed.

Somehow they did. I did initially feel a bit guilty putting SBR on above The Manic Shine but in an effort to avoid the usual “I’m only here to see my mates and not sticking around for the bands I’ve never heard of” scenario it was an obvious way to play things. SkyBurnsRed always seem to up their game when you put them on a big stage and tonight was no exception. They seemed to grow in all aspects, more sweepingly classical, gruffer and grungy, more bass and beat driven, a perfect way to round up the night.

One foot note comes with stopping for a couple of drinks in The Rolleston upstairs. Having struggled to get a significant numbers in for new and original music, it is slightly disheartening to see the place rammed and singing along to Queen covers. And before the usual defenders of the faith try to hoist me with my own words, let me lay it out one more time. It’s all about supply and demand, give the audience what they want and that is exactly what the Rolleston do, and do well. I’m not in anyway having a go at their policy; it’s a business after all. I think I just wish people would be more demanding of their music, but that said and done I doubt if any of the people currently fist punching to We Are The Champions are the target audience for the gigs I’m putting on, so I will leave it at that. Accept to say that people who support cover and tribute bands at the exclusion of original music remind me of people who go on holiday to wonderful overseas destinations and instead of embracing the local culture, instead hunt down the place that does English breakfasts, has the big screen TV showing the England game and try to order a pint of Tetley’s at the local bodega. Rant over…brace for verbal impact.

Chapter IV – Ladies and Germans I give you The Driftwood Fairytales

 

It was lovely to witness the return of Rich Millin, local drum legend, music teacher, friend and twit! His reason for being here was in the role of stand in drummer for a wonderful Berlin based band called The Driftwood Fairytales (pictured), a band I had the please of witnessing at The Beehive one Sunday afternoon. Theirs is a blend of folk-rock and anthemic Gaslight Anthem-esque big singalong choruses. So enthralled was I by their music that I immediately purchase both of their albums, which I can’t recommend highly enough and a t-shirt (which obviously I took a pair of scissors to – too many sleeves for my liking.) After the gig, drink and tour stories flowed and international relations were put on a solid footing.

Chapter V – Some Enchanted Evening

 

And so we come to the final gig in this wonderful musical odyssey a night at The Victoria of rare outings by less testosterone fuelled bands than what had largely gone before. Opening the night was Emily Sykes fronting a band that provided bass and sumptuous backing harmonies to her fragile and vulnerable songs. Not the most ubiquitous of musicians these days, it was great to see her fronting her own music again, her previous band, The Julia Set, seems a long time ago now.

Matilda came next, a lovely blend of laid back lounge jazz, Amy Hedges clarinet often giving it a sort of chilled, New York klezmer edge, Alison Kraus style country, dream-pop and folk. Upping the stakes slightly in the area of punch and dynamics came Emily and The Dogs and enchanting and seemingly effortless blend of jazz, folk and rock and skirting around the realms normally inhabited by the likes of Ani De Franco and Polly Harvey.

Have you ever tried to get a dozen people to leave one pub at the same time? Impossible. So once the decision had been made to head down The Beehive to round the night off, all I could do was make my way there and see who actually followed in my wake. Surprisingly everybody, I think, and the night continued onwards to a sound track of lilting folk and fired up Celtic rock courtesy of Missin’ Rosie. I would tell you more about it, but my memory goes a bit hazy at that point. Suffice it to say stocks of Nurofen are in short supply in Swindon this morning.

Chapter VI – That was the (2) week(s) that was.

 

So, nothing ever happens in Swindon. Do me a favour!

Why have X-factor, when you can watch and meet real musical heroes, why have Facebook friends when you can spend time in the company of actual friends.  You can keep reality TV, I’ll stick to reality.

Library - 176Another one of those musical embarrassments of riches weeks, so it’s straight on with the show for a change.

Songs of Praise at The Victoria tonight plays hosts to two of its favourites. Headlining are Witney’s Black Hats and if you have ever wondered what a band like The Jam would be doing today given the new musical fashions and technology they would have absorbed and embraced, then these guys might just be the answer. Support comes from chaps of the moment Nudybronque who make the sort of disposable underground pop that you will want to keep forever.

More rootsy offerings can be found at The Beehive where duo, Two Man Ting, an offshoot from Afro-dance favourites La Cod Afrique, mix bright, looping guitar with djembe rhythms to make wonderous world-pop creations. If blues is your thing, young electric blues rockers, Retramantic are at The Rolleston.

The word legend is banded around far to readily these days, but in the case of The Victoria’s Friday night booking it really does apply. Still regarded as the number one sixties soul man, Geno Washington (not a tribute, your actual, real Geno Washington) still knows how to put on a great show, and anyone who inspired a Dexys Midnight Runners song has got to be a legend in my book, even Jocky Wilson, who also heavily influenced the band Darts. Possibly.

The Furnace is playing hosts to a group of bands who are shaping the current face of rock. SkyBurnsRed don’t even have time to type the spaces between the words in their band name but play grunge meets alt-rock with a classical sweep, raw, emotive, aggressive, elemental, dark and sensuous. The Manic Shine also return armed with a second album just brimming over with great tunes and infectious grooves, think classic rock guitar icons being mixed with sub-prog, indie-dance and techno and all delivered with an intensity that has made their live shows legendary. Middlenamekill and Tides of Change kick the night off.

Elsewhere The Great Nothing offer The Rolleston a different take on retro-rock classics or you can opt for old-school rock and roll with Josie and The Outlaw at The Beehive  – miss this show and you can catch them at The Rolleston on Sunday.

Something to shout about again on Saturday at The Furnace as Old Colours bring their gorgeous, cinematic pop-folkiness to bear and if their last show there is anything to go by then it is going to be a real treat. Dub vibes come courtesy of Salisbury’s Badrat and opening the night are Armchair Commitee and Charlie Bath.

I’m resorting to using the “L-word” again as new-wave pioneer Wreckless Eric rocks up at the Rolleston aided and abetted by his wife Amy Rigby (pictured). The combination of the Stiff Records stalwart and the New Yorkers effortless pop (just check out Dancing With Joey Ramone from her back catalogue) makes for a finished sound that is as wonderful as it is unexpected.

It’s covers at Riffs Bar with the Hi-fidels, but my tip is get out there early enough to catch support act NewQuay Times who mix covers and originals in a set that conjures the likes of Lone Justice, Tom Petty and even Throwing Muses.

It’s Sunday and its time for: Warning, warning, gross nepotism alert!! Right you have been warned. At the Beehive afternoon session Driftwood Fairy have popped all the way over from Berlin to deliver some quality folk-rock. The nepotism bit comes when I tell you that none other than Rich Millin, ubiquitous drummer, tutor, connoisseur of three for a tenner wines, friend and twit is at the kit. Not only will you get some great music, I’m sure it is going to be a messy sort of re-union.

Fans of more traditional folk music will want to keep Tuesday night free as Jamie Smiths Mabon bring original Celtic folk to the Arts Centre. On Wednesday there is a bit of a tussle going on for the acoustic fans. The ever-popular Running Horse Sessions will be playing host to Ethemia, a brilliant duo, with an effortless stage presence reminiscent of the recently defunct Civil Wars. Meanwhile, almost every other acoustic act in town is at The Furnace for Teenage Kicks Acoustic Spring Break, no space left to list them all, I’ll leave that up to you.

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Right folks, a busy time for Green Man Music with three gigs in one week. Tonight is the launch of our new night out of Riffs, I have already spammed the internet into submission on  that one so I will say no more but to give you the link –

https://www.facebook.com/events/429231417151486/?ref=22

On Thursday it is our regular Songs of Praise at The Victoria, this time with two of our favourite bands – Black Hats and Nudybronque, brilliantly executed energetic indie and pretty much a master class in live showmanship.

https://www.facebook.com/events/160572044066590/

Finally, though not listed on our regular page, we have combined forces with Gig Monkey and The Furnace to bring together a host of top rock bands. Local legends (both musical and alcoholic consumption) SkyBurnsRed top the bill and the real coup is that we have managed to bring The Manic Shine back into Swindon. If you want to know where rock music goes from here, check these boys out. With Middlenamekill and Tides of Change also on the bill it is set to be a brilliant night.

https://www.facebook.com/events/495781747134158/

Library - 140

Library - 25Another week and yet more bad news on the music front. Last time I reported that The 12 Bar had shut it’s doors, possibly for the last time as a music venue; this week it was announced that after three very successful years, the biggest cultural event in the local calendar, The Big Arts Day, is also calling it a day. A sign of the times no doubt, but maybe such things are a signifier of major shifts in our habits. Like the transition from physical formats to digital downloads, maybe the live experience itself is no longer seen as an particularly relevant experience. People seem more and more inclined to engage with music via the celebrity stacked medium of television in the comfort of their own homes rather than make the effort to go out and watch bands performing at the grass roots level, the place where every band, no matter how big, originated. So it sort of begs the question, where now for live music?

Whilst you ponder that you can still catch some good music around the town. Tonight (Thursday), for example, sees the welcome return of Witney’s finest yob savants, Black Hats. Imagine what The Jam might sound like if they had carried on evolving through the breakthroughs of modern technology and changing pop fashions, visit The Victoria tonight for a glimpse of that possible scenario. Support is the raw, visceral and unadulterated rock and roll of Nymph and kicking things off is Babies vs. Rabies who having risen from the ashes of Mr Hello and His Honesty Club are sure to throw a musical curve ball. For something more sedate, Claude Bourbon will be at The Beehive delivering his trademark weaves of folk, blues, and jazz, classical and eastern acoustic vibes.

On Friday, Riffs Bar have The Sanity Days, Severenth and Twisted State of Mind gigging in aid of International Heavy Metal Day, which is confusing because not only is heavy metal the one genre that there is no shortage of in Swindon, but also the official day is actually on the 12th. Still time to set up a Tibetan Acid Jazz day to rival it. No? Pity! The Victoria are hosting its annual tribute to John Lennon and The Beatles with the likes of Nudybronque, Aural Candy, The Suspicions, Mr Love and Justice and The Starkers providing their renditions of his songs.

The Furnace is celebrating all things youthful, indie and slightly experimental around the edges. Headliners The Debuts, despite their age, have a wonderful washed out and slightly cinematic post-punk feel mixed with more contemporary markers. The Jefferson Brick are the sound of indie exploring some of it’s more warped undercurrents whilst Korim Miah and With Felix push the night’s sounds into some interesting guitar-electro-pop territory.

If you have been anywhere near the internet in the last 4 months you must be aware that Kiss tribute, Dressed to Kill are playing The Furnace on Saturday whilst upstairs in The Rolleston Missin’ Rosie will be doing what they do best. For those not in the know, what they do best is mix high energy Celtic folk with a driven rock sound, sort of a West Country Flogging Molly if you like.

In aid of Help for Heroes charity and more specifically to honour the memory of Paul Dolphin there is a twin venue music event taking place, firstly at the MECA and then going on till 6am at SUJU. 10 hours of music in the form of 30 live acts and DJ’s and all for a very good cause.

The Beehive offers something a bit more old school for its Sunday afternoon session. Jim Reynolds is fine purveyor of blues, ragtime and old-fashioned ballads and is at turns, laconic, wistful and pensive and tongue in cheek.

More acoustic music in the form of The Stripped Back Sessions at The Victoria on Tuesday featuring Kitchen Sink Dramas, Nick Parker and Reichenback Falls, who is often compared to Sparklehorse, Iron and Wine and Bonny Prince Billy, three acts that surly must pique the interest of any music fan.

Finally the week rounds out at The Running Horse on Wednesday with the vocally gorgeous, dark sonnets of The Black Feathers and funkier acoustic sounds of The Right Hooks.

Right folks, in a couple of weeks time the lovely Black Hats return to Songs of Praise, watch them now and one day you will be able to tell people that even though they are now playing big Stadiums all around the world, you saw them at a free gig on a Thursday night in Swindon. Nymph come up from the south coast for their first visit and new experimental art-noise outfit, Babies vs Rabies kick the night off. Go on, you know you want to!

Links and info at the event page  – HERE