Tag Archive: portia conn


Library - 99There was an interesting debate on line the other day, mainly from a promoters point of view and centred around the age old problem of getting people out to watch live music. I have written about it extensively elsewhere but it is worth just recapping on the main thrust of the arguments here. One side seemed to want to lay the blame of poor attendances at the feet of the punter in a fairly sanctimonious line that went something like “ we are putting these gigs on for you and you are not attending them, therefore you are failing as a music fan” The usual clichés, use it or lose it statements and the one-upmanship of who’s most passionate about music followed in its usual dreary inevitability.

 

I see the scenario the other way around. The public know what they want and if promoters and venues are suffering from ill attended gigs, maybe their “product” and a gig is just as much a product as Tesco sausages, just isn’t that appealing. In short maybe they are just booking the wrong bands; wrong as in over played, limited appeal or just plain boring. Last week in particular showed that if you tap into the right vibe people will respond and bands such as Young Kato, Portia Conn, Old Colours, Spyglass, SkyBurnsRed and even old faithfuls like The Hamsters from Hell played to decent crowds. It can be done, but if people aren’t turning up to your shows, maybe the answer to the problem lies closer to home than you think.

 

Right, I’ve deliberated, cogitated and digested enough and come to the conclusion that these are the gigs that you might like to go to. In the name of fairness and to avoid the usual backlash, I must point out that other gigs are available and door prices can go up as well as down.

 

Interesting proposition in the top bar of The Victoria tonight, Normally to be found performing with Toupe, Grant Sharkey is a brilliant mix of upright bass, live humour, improvised lyrics and audience participation all of which makes for a brilliant live experience.

 

Friday seems to be the night when it’s all happening, starting in Old Town and working our way down the hill it goes like this. The Arts Centre has the legendary Colin Blunstone, a name associated with bands such as Argent and The Alan Parsons Project but most famous for being a member of The Zombies and co-writing the hit She’s Not There.

 

Round the corner at The Victoria, after too long away from the scene, The Shudders (pictured) are back spearheading a cracking night. Not only do you get their lo-fi, folk-pop, Americana shennanighins, but you also have Alex Taylor who channels the ethereal acoustic vibe of the likes of Damien Rice and John Martyn, plus the funkier, rootsy acoustica of The Right Hooks.

 

By the time you get down to The Beehive, something very interesting and unexpected is afoot. Whilst certain venues at the more boisterous end of town have been hosting various X-Factor contestants, here you will find Dorka Shodeinde, who was well placed in the Hungarian version of the contest performing with her guitarist Roland Polyak, the result is something altogether more soulful and palatable. If you want to play the nostalgia card, The Rolleston plays host to The Nomarks who are keeping the sound of the late seventies two-tone/ska revival alive and kicking.

 

Although Swindon is never short of metal bands, Riffs Bar has taken the interesting slant of getting some of the top bands of the genre, namely Eye For An Eye, From Ruin and Mortdelamer to play acoustic versions of their songs. Also note that this is Mortdelamer’s last ever gig, so I think it is only fitting that all you metallers support this and give them a great send off.

 

On Saturday at the same venue you can catch John Coghlan’s Quo, touring as a warm up before the much talked about classic line up Status Quo reunion. Not normally one to tout the tribute set but as it’s Transmission, who recreate the glorious sounds of Joy Division, I can’t not give it a quick mention. That’s at The Victoria and support is a Killing Joke set from 1000 Planets. If country music is your thing then you need to be at the Arts Centre for the iconic Hank Wangford and The Lost Cowboys.

 

And finally we jump to Wednesday when you have the options of a Bluegrass jam session at Riffs Bar or some wonderful joyous and sweeping acoustic folk from Antoine Architeuthis at The Running Horse. Support comes from Alice Offley, genre-hopping pianist who is  equally at home knocking out brash pop, delicate other worldly dreamscapes and everything in between.

Library - 97There was an interesting debate online the other day that centred around the age old problem of punters not supporting gigs, the same “use it or lose it” clichés being thrown around as well as the usual one-upmanship of how some people want to be seen as being  more passionate about music than others. One thrust of the argument tried to lay the blame squarely on the punter along the lines of “we are putting these gigs on and you are not attending, it’s your bad” (as they say in US teen comedies.) However, this if we build it they should come argument is, in my opinion, all arse about face (as they say in UK radio farming dramas.) Even in financially tough times, if you put on a gig that is attractive enough to the punter, then people will turn up. The point I think that was being missed by the opposing camp was that a lot has changed since they were young, finger on the pulse, gig goers. People don’t access their music in the same way anymore; there are so many free alternatives available in the comfort of your own home to actually going out to a gig. Music is all over the TV, sites like Spotify gives you free access to a lot of music, the internet allows cottage industry bands to get their music directly to the punter (hence the demise of HMV, who, to be fair, must have seen it coming) maybe attending live gigs just isn’t that important to a lot of people as it was ten or twenty years ago. Maybe it’s as simple as the people moaning about no one attending the gigs they are putting on, are simply billing the wrong bands! Does Tesco attack the man in the street for buying Sainsbury’s products? No they do some research and try to create a more appealing product.

So what happens if you put the right bands on? Well quite a lot. My own night, Songs of Praise had a pretty good turn out considering the weather and the post Christmas financial crash that most people are feeling. Original music on a Thursday night is always tricky round here so to get 30-40 people in was very pleasing. Rock music might seem to have been done to death but there are still some great bands putting a different edge on things. Openers Adepto Futui (pictured), now  playing in a classic three piece formation managed to mix self-deprecating between song banter with some blistering raw electric blues that would sit quite happily alongside your Jon Spenser Blues Explosion collection. Up all the way from Cardiff, Spyglass played a polished set of alt-rock that married the density of grunge with some aggressive classic rock grooves and headliners SkyBurnsRed did their usual line of effortless rock, classical sweeps, dark and atmospheric songs and funky leggings.

The following night The Furnace also proved that if you do it right, then people will take notice. I got into a bit of bother a while ago when I suggested that the venues break with its old associations is both painful for some and totally necessary. In fact what I said exactly was:

I’m glad to see that The Furnace is getting its act together again. More gigs seem to be taking place and more diversity within those bookings is most welcome. Gradually shaking off its creatures of the night association has not been easy on the DJ’s and promoters who have been driving the change, but hopefully those Buffy The Vampire Slayer fixated, pretend pagan, narrow minded, goth-metalers who bemoan the loss of their lair, but who in reality never supported in particularly great numbers anyway, will now be relegated to the chat rooms and forums where they can ritually curse the new direction and bitch about the old days viewed through blood-tinted spectacles.

 

A barrage of abuse followed mainly from people trying to defend their rose-tinted image of Level 3. You don’t have to tell me about those days, I was there. A lot! Yes it was great, yes it was busy but the important word if WAS. If you want to re-capture those days you have to re-create it with the tools available and that’s what tonight was all about. The new tools in this case lay largely on the pop side of indie. Two local openers set the scene, Salute The Magpie who channel the spirit of The Smiths via more recent Indie sounds such as The Maccabees, and the wonderful cinematic folk- pop blends of indie soundscapers, Old Colours played to the biggest crowd of the whole night. The headline acts have just come to the end of a national tour and even though they are not the biggest names to have passed through the venue since the change of management, they still managed to keep a reasonable amount of the crowd after the local interest had left the stage. Pop used to be a dirty word but Portia Conn and her band play the sort of pop that easily dispels the generic travesties of the past, auto-tuners and clichéd dance routines. Instead we are reminded that pop can produce soulful and fresh music played with style by wonderfully charismatic live bands. Whoddathoughtit?

Young Kato splice rock and pop and create the best of both worlds with the attack, attitude and drive of the former and the fun and melody of the latter. And although the crowd had dwindled somewhat by then, those that remained were there to have a good time and bounced along to their effervescent tunes, in fact it was a capsule moment of what had been taking place all night as the gig had attracted a slew of hip popsters and cool indie kids out to have a good time. A sea of funky hats, ironic knitwear, skinny jeans and future-retro styles flitted about the room, a splash of fun and colour where not so long ago you would only have seen an ocean of black. It also became the focal point for a gathering of the great and good of Swindon and muso spotting from bands old and new became the order of the day. In my i-spy book of ligging and name checking, I managed to tick off a couple of  The 211, a Youngblood, an Off Chancer and even got extra points for a good chat with the boy racer himself, Chip Daddy.

To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park “Music finds a way” Even in these difficult times, the audience is out there. There was a time when maverick promoters could afford to run the line, I’m giving them what they didn’t know they wanted, fine when there is an excess of disposable income and people turn out in larger numbers. For now it’s all about giving the punter what he wants and understanding that if people aren’t turning up to shows that you are putting on, the answer to the problem might lie closer to home than you realise.

Library - 91Had Good King Wenceslas looked out of my window, far from seeing snow that was deep and crisp and even, he would have seen un-gritted roads and snow sculptures that either look like something out of a Tim Burton movie or designs that are too unsavoury to be discussed here. And looking at the snow it got me thinking that unlike the cheesy results when Christmas is used as the subject of a song, the topic of snow has generated some wonderful results. Underground classics such as Driven Like The Snow by obtuse grumps The Sisters of Mercy, the hauntingly beautiful Fifteen Feet of Pure White Snow by Nick Cave (although the underlying message is about something far darker of course) and in typical humour Frank Zappa’s, Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow.

 

Well hopefully the snow related chaos that has caused so many gig cancellations over the last week are behind us, especially as one of the bands playing Songs of Praise at The Victoria tonight are coming all the way up from Cardiff. Spyglass mix up heavy alt-rock grooves with a melodic grunge density and will be playing the support slot to SkyBurnsRed, a band who incorporate classical grandeur, raw, dark and emotive rock, sensuous violin and an aggressive delivery. Also taking their chosen genre to new heights is opener Adepto Futui, a band that captures the feeling, vibe and voice of traditional blues but who manage to twist it into interesting, Byzantine heavy and original shapes.

 

Meanwhile down at The Beehive an interesting local proposition is taking place. Having grown out of the Lazy Sunday Afternoon Sessions at the Art Centre, Fieldfare is the combined acoustic guitar and vocal arrangements of local stalwarts, Steve Cox, Paul Griffiths and Tim Sawyer reworking each other’s songs.

 

There are a few big shows at The Furnace this week; the first comes in the form of Cheltenham’s Young Kato on Friday. Pop may be a dirty word these days but along with LAB label mate Portia Conn, they will be proving that there is a lot more to the genre than dance routines and auto-tuners. Pop beats, warm atmospherics and infectious melodies collide with confident guitar-work to re-establish the credibility of the genre. Also on the bill Old Colours continue to ply their trade of fragile, cinematic, otherworldly indie creations and Salute the Magpie open the show. If something more raw, lewd and beardy is to your taste then check out The Hamsters From Hell in The Rolleston next door.

 

Back at The Beehive and another Cheltenham band, Stressecho indulge the venue with a wonderful angst-folk set, beautiful, understated music to accompany poignant and open story telling.

 

More big noises at The Furnace on Saturday, this time taking a much more aggressive format with hard edged pop-punk from south coast trio, Hold The Fight and local, upbeat, post-hardcore champions When Words Fail. Back upstairs in The Rolleston there is a bit of a paradox. Metal Gods claim to “try and bring something fresh to the scene” which is obviously commendable but then state that they play classic rock covers from the 80’s/90’s. Not sure what to make of that, still that’s not to say it won’t be a good night out for those still proudly holding on to their patched denim jackets and Let It Rain tour shirts.

 

 

Riffs Bar play the acoustic card and have a collection of acts both local and otherwise  playing in a very stripped down fashion, including the 50’s rock and roll vibe of Josie and The Outlaw, the wonderful harmonies and intricate guitar blends of Ethemia and the joyous and upbeat creations of The Real Raj.

 

Missin’ Rosie seem determined to invoke the wrath of the folk police (they do exist, I checked with the Home Office) by taking folk music and rocking it up to a point where those people who denounced Dylan for going electric in ’66 would be jumping off of tall buildings. Catch their mix of standards and originals at The Sun Inn on Sunday.

 

And so we end in our usual mid week oasis of music and two options. If you haven’t had enough of the loud and shouty, then Teenage Kicks at The Furnace has a Headbanger Special on Wednesday with music and neck ache courtesy of Twisted State of Mind, Dissolute, Wreckoning and Stands To Reason.  A more mellow listening experience can be had at The Running Horse with the wonderful Rosellys whose British-American ranges from acoustic country to stomping bluegrass, from gentle balladry to barn dance hoedowns. Not what you expect from the M4 corridor on a chilly midweek evening.