Tuesday 26 May 2009

The Damned - Live Review

The Damned Live at The Square, Harlow, 22nd May 2009

The Damned are one of my all time favourite bands... other bands come and go, but too many are a flash in the pan, or show promise then wuss out and\or disappoint (Kings of Leon anyone??!). But The Damned have continued to entertain, excite and genuinely interest me for three decades now, and they still remain one of the most consistent bands out there.... I mean, there can't be many bands who have been going for 30+ years, and on your way to the gig you utter this sentence "I hope they do some stuff from the new album"! But it is precisely those words that did pass my lips in the car, only to be endorsed by Mrs P and the Brownster! Y'see, the Damned's new album ('So, Who's Paranoid?'), is a bit of a revelation, and I have no doubt that were the exact same thing released by some trendy young whipper-snappers, it would be blowing the minds of the music press... but as it is, it's 'only the Damned' and so largely ignored by everyone except those in the know. Believe it or not, this album is right up there with what is almost universally considered to be their finest work (The Black Album - 1980, and Strawberries - 1982). There is a lovely 60's psychedelic feel to the tracks, and it finishes with an epic 13 minute 'space-rock' stormer (Dark Asteroid) that just about out-Hawkwinds Hawkwind!

Tonight's show is a warm-up for the new tour, a triple-header with 80's indie Welsh rockers The Alarm, and original Stiff Little Fingers guitarist, now solo artist Henry Cluney. It's an insanely small venue, more like a pub than a club (a bit like having a mini punk festival in your front room!) so the atmosphere is pretty electric. The band (minus lead-singer) push there way through the crowd and squeeze on to the tiny stage, of which 70% is already taken up with Pinch's ever expanding drum kit! They crank into the opening bars of 'Love Song', and Dave Vanian appears stage right, bang-on cue to provide the vocals. Unbelievably, Vanian is now in his 50's, but he's still as cool as they come. Tonight he's looking particularly dapper, decked out like a 1940's Hollywood film star! A cross between Errol Flynn and Clark Gable, complete with 40's cut suit, crisp white shirt, braces and a necker-chief - all topped off with a pencil-thin moustache. The hair too is very Flynn-esque, except for the addition of the white 'skunk-stripe' through it!

Unfortunately, the band are dogged by technical trouble for the early part of the show. Vanian's earpiece was obviously not working, neither were the stage monitors, making it particularly tough for them to play as a unit. The band are not slow in pointing these problems out to the sound-desk, but with precious little assistance. Understandably, as the night goes on the band start to get a little irritated at the lack of urgency to sort out these issues... I notice at least twice Captain Sensible give the guitar technician a well aimed 'boot up the arse' for his trouble, whilst he was bending down to sort out malfunctioning leads, pedals and such like! To their credit, they battle on regardless, but the problems don't get much better, The Captain's guitar dips in and out (annoyingly right at the crucial moment in the intro to 'New Rose'), Vanians vocals keeps dropping out... culminating in a real disappointment, as they have to abandon one of my favourite tracks from the new album ('Under The Wheels') within a minute. Vanian and Pinch's patience with the sound engineer runs out at this point and they both give him a bit of a verbal dressing down! The audience breaks into a impromptu "the soundman is a wanker, the soundman is a wanker, la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la...". The Captain seems delighted with the chant "it's normally me" he laughs! and with perfect comedy timing, the crowd switch to the more traditional words, which brings and even bigger smirk to the face of the Sensible one!

It could be a coincidence, but having been berated by the band, and called a wanker by 200 fans seems to kick the guy into action, and things do seem to improve considerable from this point. The stage monitors never do kick in though, and they are eventually removed... which at least gives Vanian some much needed extra room.

The set-list is heavy on early material tonight, with more than half the songs coming from between 1977-1979. But these fast punky numbers are ideal for this small sweaty venue. The odd change of pace is thrown in from time to time... covers of 'Alone Again Or' and 'Eloise', as well as the excellent new album track Dr. Woofenstein, which all go down very well (and give the heaving mosh pit a much needed break to gasp for air!).

There is a truly mesmerising rendition of the aforementioned 'Dark Asteroid', which the Captain dedicates to Syd Barrett. We are also not a little surprised to see how the Captain re-creates the guitar sound at the beginning of the track.... using a empty beer can on the strings to tease out that beautifully eery sound! Incredible! By the end of the song, two mini drum kits have been installed, which Sensible and Monty (keyboard player) take centre stage with. Not to be outdone, Vanian and Stu (bass player) head for the vacant keyboards to complete the madness!

Towards the end of the set, Vanian spots someone at the side of the stage who he is obviously very pleased to see! He grins and waves manically, then points out the guest to the Captain. I've no idea who it was, but it was obviously someone of considerable influence, because when they return for the encore (well, Pinch never actually left the stage! He just stood next to his drum kit for a bit!), Vanian casually announces to the rest of the band that they have "had a request", and are doing 'Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde'. Now I've seen 'fake' impromptu songs in a set-list before, but this was definitely a genuine 'spur-of-the-moment' thing! You could tell this just by looking at the faces of the rest of the band... particularly Pinch! "a request?" he says exasperated "from ONE person??? Why??! When's the last time we played it??!" But it's all to no avail and they busk their way admirably through a very convincing rendition. It may have been played for one lucky person, but it made the night for many more... not least the Brownster, who having had The Black Album almost permanently on repeat for the last couple of days, had only been thinking earlier in the day how great it would be if they played that very track!! Job done Sir!!

The Captain is given the floor to perform one of his earliest solo recordings, 1978's Jet-Boy, Jet-Girl. It's a hundred times faster than the record, and is ably assisted by Dave Vanian on backing vocals! Great fun! The finale is a crunching version of 'Smash It Up' ("it's not an instruction" the Captain warns the audience, who have already been told off several times by 'the management' for being too lively!).

To sum up - an absolutely blistering 90 minutes, and quite possibly the best I've ever seen the Damned (and I've been seeing them since the 80's). Vanian is in a rich vein of form, and his vocals are top notch, the Captain remains one of the most underrated guitarists of our time, Stu West is quietly becoming the bass player to rival Damned legend Paul Gray, Pinch is a cracking drummer and Monty Oxy Moron is providing some wonderful keyboards to the set-up. The on-stage banter and jokes show these guys are all genuinely fond of each other, and that is the final ingredient that makes this current line up gel so well.

We all leave with inane grins stuck to our faces. On returning to our respective homes, both the Brownster and I immediately hit the web (or should that be the 'net-net-net'??!), desperately looking at the forthcoming tour dates, seeing where we can get out next fix!

For those interesting in that sort of thing, the set list was as follows:

Love Song
Second Time Around
New Rose
Under The Wheels (abandoned)
Alone Again Or
Disco Man
I Fall
Dr. Woofenstein
Melody Lee
Neat Neat Neat
Dark Asteroid
Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
Jet-Boy Jet-Girl
Noise Noise Noise
Smash It Up


Thursday 21 May 2009

Remi Gaillard

Remi Gaillard is kinda like the French equivalent of Johnny Knoxville.... and yeah, I know it ain't big, and I know it ain't clever.... but it sure is funny!!

Someone tipped me off about him a few weeks ago, so I started searching for his videos, and you've got to admire his nerve. He first came to the attention of the public in 2002 when, incredibly, he donned the kit of FC Lorient, and somehow managed to 'mingle in' with the players at the end of Coupe de France final (kinda like our FA Cup Final). Not only did he join in with all the celebrations and laps of honour with the winning team, he even got introduced to president Jacques Chirac! There have been other sporting pranks too, with him somehow managing to get on the field of play at rugby games, tennis matches, volleyball tournaments and more... all filmed by his mates on hand-held video cameras.

Two of his stunts that particularly crack me up are his 'Mario Kart' and 'Pac-Man' recreations!! This guy has a serious screw lose! Dressed as Mario from the famous computer games, he sets off round the busy streets of some French suburb in a tiny go-cart - much like you'd see at the seaside (and JUST like you'd find in the computer game!). Weaving in an out of the unsuspecting traffic, Remi faithfully recreates the idea of the game, ever throwing banana skins at some of the drivers as you do in the game!

On the face of it, his Pac-Man recreation is particularly juvenile. But when you look at the effort that has gone into this prank you do have to tip your hat to him. Remi, dressed as Pac Man, charges through shopping malls, golf courses and more... chased by 3 life sized ghosts!! It's the attention to detail I love though, watch carefully as he tried to pick up a golfers ball, and a pool players cue-ball.... what's he up to? Well remember how Pac-Man could chase the ghosts if he ate the white 'power pill' sitting in each corner??! Genius!

Kangaroo Rampage, is another seriously childish one, but I defy you not you laugh, as he 'hops' round town causing absolute mayhem.

Here are a few videos of the man in action, but if you are keen, you'll find many more on YouTube!

Remi Kart


actual TV footage of that Coupe de France final ... you won't believe what he gets away with in it!

Kangaroo Rampage


Saturday 16 May 2009

19 Questions: Dennis Hopper Choppers (Ben Nicholls)

I've mentioned before how I can sometimes feel a little despondent about new music... But when I do hit on something special, it still gives me an incredible buzz. A couple of years back the 'ol Spidey sense was tingling like a full-on earth tremor when I discovered Dennis Hopper Choppers.

DHC is actually a one-man-band, Ben Nicholls. But don't go imagining that sad 'ol fella who you once saw playing under the railway bridge, cymbals attached to his knees with string, a drum operated by a rather odd, sidways leg-action and a kazoo sticking out the side of his mouth... this is the coolest one man band you'll ever see. Incredibly, Ben plays guitar, bass drum, high hat, organ bass pedals and vox-organ... oh, and he has a pretty damn fine voice too! And if you are in any way doubting how this could possibly work, I urge you to go see him live! You've never seen one man make such an incredible noise on his own!

I was genuinely blown away with the debut album (Chop) in late 2007, which has remained in or nearby the CD player pretty much since its release. reverb soaked rockabilly twang, mixed with everything from Nick Cave, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Scott Walker (the track Don't Run From Me could be a lost Scott Walker classic!), The Cramps and Dick Dale. For me, listening to the album conjours up images from films like From Dusk Til Dawn, El Mariachi, Desperado Etc etc...

I am really chuffed to say than Ben has been kind enough to answer my '19 Questions', so Ben, it's over to you....

1. How are you?
I've got a cold at the moment, which is really annoying cause I need to get the vocals finished on the new album and I don't wanna sound like Dylan after a heavy night....

2. Where are you at the moment?
At home, being quiet.

3. Who inspired you as a child?
My dad had a big record collection that included a lot of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Leadbelly, Big Bill Broonzy and Johnny Cash. You don't know any better as a kid, so that's just how I thought music was. It takes quite a few years to realize the effect it's had upon you, all that early listening.

4. What was the first record you ever bought?
Well the first record I remember getting hold of was a cassette from a friend at school. On one side was Bob Dylan-The times they are a-changin’, and the other side was Joni Mitchell- Hejira. It made me realize that there was more to music than I’d thought.

5. What's your all time favourite song(s) or album(s)?
True Love Ways by Buddy Holly. It's such a beautiful song and his vocal is amazing. The arrangement is obviously a big studio production, but you just can't remove the rough rockabilly twang from his voice.

6. What was the first gig you ever attended?
The first gig I ever went to was actually a free festival in about 1978. I was a tiny kid and my dad took me and the dog for a walk on the south downs near where I'm from. We stumbled into this festival on a hilltop. All I can remember is the massive generators, stupidly loud guitars and whacked out festival goers. Pretty freaky when you're only 5 years old.

7. What was your 'biggest break' or 'luckiest moment' in establishing your career?
I’m not sure it’s about luck. It’s about working out what you do and then just getting on with it and hoping the world catches on.

8. How would you describe the music you make?
I’ll let other people describe the music….. I just try and make stuff I’d like to listen to.

9. What's your most 'Rock n Roll' moment?
Still being a musician despite the local muso who told me after hearing me play at the age of 13, not to give up my day job.

10. Worst moment of your career?
Every time I get home after a four hour drive from a gig and have to unload an entire bands worth of gear on my own at 5 in the morning. Ug, the downside of being a one-man-band.

11. What are you most proud of?
Not losing the faith, against the odds.

12. One bit of advice you'd like to be able to give the 17 year old you?
Be confident, everyone else is making it up as they go too.

13. If you could perform with any artist (dead or alive), who would it be?
I’d like to have a band with Link Wray on guitar and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips on drums. Massively heavy yet slinky at the same time.

14. Name one artist you really think I should check out?
A singer songwriter from devon, called Dan Goddard, he has one album out just called DBG. It’s kind of a cross between CSNY and the dark side of Roger Waters, but the melodies are incredible. It needs to be checked out.

(You can check out Dan's MySpace page here.)

15. What's currently on your iPod..CD player?
Link Wray- Three Track Shack. It’s an amazing compilation of music made despite the music business, which he’d fallen out of line with. It’s got everything in it.

16. What's the last album you bought?
Japan-Oil on Canvas. Double vinyl LP and at the same time, Johnny Pineapple and Co.-From Hawaii, the perfect Sunday morning record. Great stuff.

17. Which song do you enjoy performing the most?
All of em, all depends when, where and to whom......

18. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new album at the moment with Ben Hillier of Depeche Mode/Blur producing fame at the helm. It’s going well, much bigger sound than the last record and more people playing on it. We’ve cut most of it pretty much live with an 8 or 9 piece band with no separation and lots of mics up in the room. It’s gonna be a great big swamp of a record….

19. How can people find out more about you?
Website - www.dennishopperchoppers.com or MySpace. The new album should hopefully be out in a few months time and there’ll be more gigs coming up later in the year.

If you want to hear more of the debut Dennis Hopper Choppers album 'Chop', you can hear a clip from each track here.

And if you want to buy 'Chop', you can get it on Amazon here.

Finally, here is the video for the single Little Johnny:


Wednesday 13 May 2009

Holiday Snaps...

Don't worry, I'll not be bothering you with photos of the family or the Dorset countryside, just a few oddities I spotted whilst out and about last week....

How nice are the people of Lyme Regis??! No doubt concerned that some of their OAPs maybe won't make it till December, they were having their over 70's Christmas meal in April!! As if that wasn't kind hearted enough, everyone was welcome!! More like an under AND over 70's bash really! Love the fact it was starting at 10am too! There's nothing like Sage and Onion stuffing for a mid-morning snack eh??!

I was delighted to see that the Dorset Letting Agency in Dorchester was, well... "To Let". A shop that really does what it promises eh?!

Spotted this on a wall during our day trip to Glastonbury, just before you get to the entrance for Glastonbury Tor. It looks a little worn, and could easily be a year old, harking back to the big 'Jay Z for Glastonbury Festival' debate. Not sure if it's a genuine Banksy, it does look like one, and he has certainly done a few pieces in the town in previous years.


Sunday 10 May 2009

non communicado!

The other week, Planet Mondo returned from a relaxing (?!) weeks holiday 'up north', only to find himself a little stir crazy at not having had the net at his fingertips all week... Man I now know how he felt, having just returned from a week away in Dorset...

I'll be honest, I felt a little smug when I read of poor old PM's plight. Y'see, it would never happen to me, because I've got a 3G phone up my sleeve, providing me with sneaky access, no matter where I am, to my e-mails, blog, MySpace, Google and all those other things that stop you doing what you are supposed to be doing. But oh how wrong I was!!

Dorset is a regular haunt for us. This was our second visit to West Dorset, and I remember having no problems with mobile coverage last time around. BUT... I forgot that I have changed service providers since the last visit. No worries though, coz 'Three' boast a 99.5% network coverage of the whole of the UK, what could possibly go wrong??! Well quite a lot as it happens!! Not only could I not get any 3G coverage for pretty much the entire holiday, I couldn't get any 2G coverage either!! These are just some of the places we went where I got bugger all signal... Dorchester, Lyme Regis, West Bay, Burton Bradstock, Charmouth and Cerne Abbas. The only exceptions were a full strength signal in Bridport (where, rather pathetically, I ended up driving through on the way home most days just to get a connection) and a day trip to Glastonbury where I got a rather poor 'one-bar' signal in one single part of the high street.

I felt like I was in an experiment for a low budget TV show for BBC3, where, stripped of your phone and access to the net, you are left to fend for yourself! As much as I tried to not let it bother me, it DID bother me, and it's that that concerns me. When these gadgets are on tap you don't realise how much you use them, and since returning home, I am now starting to notice just how much I use the internet and my mobile phone. It's rather alarming to realise you are a mobile-junkie, I pretty much always have my phone with me where ever I go, and the odd time I do forget it (and it is only for that reason, looking back, I can't remember a time when I ever chose to leave my phone behind), ensures an evening of repetitive 'pocket patting' and a slight feeling of nausea!

I mean what the hell did we do before the net and mobile phones anyway??!! How did we ever meet up with anyone or find out about obscure rubbish??! I can remember going to music festivals in the 80's and early 90's where there were 'message tents' and 'message posts' set up all around the site. These things were heaving with thousands of bits of paper like "Sam, are you here?, meet us by the beer tent at 7.30, Charlie"... I genuinely think that not a single person was ever helped by this service! Within a hour of arriving at Glastonbury festival these days, I know where all my mates are, which field(s) they are camping in, and where and when we are going to meet up. I even remember one year at Reading festival some entrepreneur selling (yes, you read it right, SELLING!) football scores!!! this was a good 16 odd years ago, and I remember he was charging 50p PER SCORE!!! Can you imagine being that out of touch these days??

The weird thing is, somehow I miss those days. It was all so much simpler then, and wasn't the fact that nobody could get in touch with you for 3 days part of the appeal? A chance to really get away from it all and enjoy yourself. Now when I'm walking round the green field at Glastonbury I can't get away from hearing people talking to the office, just making sure that all important deal is going through OK. It's really sad that we don't seem to be able to switch off any more. Is it the faster pace of life and work that has sent us this way, or did we freely choose to make ourselves continually in contact with the world?

Answers on a postcard please... no hold on, e-mail them to me, no, better still, text me... NOW!!


PS - If anyone from 'Three' mobile is reading, that 99.5% coverage boast of yours is absolute bollocks!

Friday 1 May 2009

Root Beer and Other Junk!

A while back I was banging on about the joys of the bargain 15p chocolate bar... Fortunately the Freddo bar is readily available, but there is more junk that I crave that I just can't seem to get my mits on...

When I went to America in 1980, this crap was everywhere, and seemed to be the only drink available! My dad had many relatives and friends to visit on our 2 week trip, and every bloody one of 'em only had root beer to offer a poor, 13 year old Piley. It was rank! Tasting like a cross between TCP, disinfectant and germoline.... How come nobody had any other soft drinks to offer me??! Maybe 1980 was the big Pepsi and Coke drought year in the US? Or was root beer just trendy around that time? (Heff?? help me out here!!). Anyway, on return, I realised I'd gotten the taste for the stuff, and found myself craving another sip... I've been addicted to the stuff ever since! In the 80's, the only place you could find it in England was in McDonald's, so I got my regular fix there... and to be fair, the root beer was the smart choice anyway, as this was around the time when McDonald's didn't sell branded soft drinks. When you asked for a Coke they always replied "is McDonald's cola OK for you?" If you are too young to remember this, lemme tell ya, McDonald's cola was NOT alright for you!! Think poor quality Happy Shopper\Panda Pops!

The 90's were barren years, and I don't think I found a drop of the stuff in these Isles for a decade. In recent times Sainburys have started selling 2 litre bottles of the stuff, and Asda have started selling a 6 pack of cans. Both are branded 'Carters' (who??!), and whilst not wanting to sound churlish, it's not the best. Imagine craving Pepsi for ten years, only to finally find a bottle of that McDonald's cola?!

Weirdly, when I returned to the US in early 2000, Root Beer seemed to be out of favour once more, and cola was again the drink of choice. Again, Heff, I'm counting on you to help me out here!?

I didn't dream these did I?? They really did exist right??! All you can find these days are the standard cheesy fellas, which don't hit the spot for me at all. I've been given many false alarms on the ham variation in the last few years, most recently by a pal who SWORE they sold them in the bar of the football club he plays for. A job lot was promised, but it was yet more false hope... Last Christmas, McVities announced they were releasing a 6 pack including limited edition flavours. I was convinced that the ham was comin' home... but what did they release? Cheese & Onion flavour and Extra mature cheddar flavour!! Bloody hell McVities! Think outside the box a bit eh??!

Yup, I know it sounds vile, but believe me, it's the food of the gods! Popcorn, coated in a powdery cheese heaven! Surprise surprise, another American invention, but boy am I hooked on it. Again, it's been tried in England a few times over the years, but always disappears from the racks after a few months (and disastrous sales). Recently I discovered a popcorn specialist in Lakeside shopping centre, with over 20 different flavours of the stuff (including BBQ, Cheese and Onion and Beef!!)... It was a real treat to get my hands on the cheese flavour once again, and made a trip to this hell-hole almost worthwhile... but on a return trip they too had succumbed to the curse of the cheese popcorn, and had promptly gone bust!

I'm obsessed by all three of these items, and every time I go to a newsagent or supermarket (and I mean EVERY time!) I always have to peruse the soft drinks and crisps\snacks sections, just in case any of them have been reintroduced to the British snacker! But my searches do occasionally pay dividends, and whilst on my pop corn hunt last week, I found something equally as odd in a sidestreet newsagent.... microwave Chilli Popcorn! Of course I bought it immediately, fully expecting to try one mouthful and throw it in the bin.... but guess what? Forget garlic bread, Chilli Popcorn is the future!

Oh and whilst on the subject of popcorn, check out this video, which has scared the shit out of me. If this is what a mobile phone does to popcorn, can you imagine what it's doing to your brain???

I'm bloggin off for a few days, and I'll see you back here in a week or so... but in the meantime, do please let me know what snacks you are continually searching for... and if by chance there are any UK sightings of root beer, ham mini-Cheddars or cheese popcorn, be sure to let me know!