Wednesday 24 June 2009

Blur - Live Review

Blur. Live at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend - 21st June 2009.

I've had a long history with Blur, having liked them right from the 'baggie'\'Madchester' days. Rather scarily, E.F Rice and I first saw them live some 18 years ago in 1991 (ouch!). 1993's Modern Life is Rubbish was a defining moment for me, and was the album that gave a very early kick-start to what would become that whole indie-mod\Britpop scene. Blur will always be the band who sum up that era for me... so many came and went during those exiting times, but looking back now, how many had any real depth? One or two good songs, but so many are now largely forgettable. Oasis were seen as the 'big winners' back in the day, but it's quite laughable now. Look how diverse and interesting Blur have been over the years... and there's Oasis still plunking out the same sound!

I've seen Blur live a lot over the years, but none more so than when I followed the Parklife tour in 94, with the added bonus of blagging all the after-show parties too! which is why, dear reader, I'm oddly quite nervous about going to this gig. Reform shows can be a dicey business... If it's a band you never saw originally, then the risks are low. But a band you used to see at the time is a much bigger gamble. I have such wonderful, warm memories of those days... but if tonight's reunion show is disappointing, there's a real chance of it tainting all those happy days locked away in the memory bank.
The band walk on stage to the sound of The Debt Collector from Parklife, there is thunderous applause to greet our long lost heroes.. so much so that the band almost look embarrassed at just how long it continues. Eventually they are allowed to launch into their opening track, She's So High. The track is almost twenty years old, but it sounds as fresh as a daisy, and already I'm starting to relax! When you have a back-catalogue as strong as Blur's, you don't need to save the big-guns for the encore, so we're treated to an early appearance of Girls and Boys. It's the signal for the crowd to go ballistic... and they don't stop for the next two hours! Girls and Boys is our first glimpse of the Parklife, an album which dominates the evening more than any other... no less that 8 of tonight setlist are taken from the 94 masterpiece. I already know this is going to be a show to remember!
The setlist at any reunion show tends to be a bit of a no-brainer, a general run through of the hits is usually the order of the day, but I'm delighted to see some real 'non-single' gems pulled out of the bag too... Tracy Jacks, Jubilee and the glorious Badhead are all unleashed early on with more treats to follow. It honestly feels like I've been transported back to the mid-ninties! The band look great and sound incredible... the energy being generated on stage is frightening! Damon has the energy of a man half his age, Graham is proving once more that he is the finest guitarist of his generation, Alex keeps his hands on the coveted title of 'coolest bass player in the world' and Dave too shows perhaps how underrated he has been over the years... The setlist has been compiled very intelligently too, so rather than a hotch-potch 'lucky dip' feel, it has been carefully crafted to hone in on specific periods and\or tempos.
Beetlebum finally allows the heaving crown to catch their breath a little, and sets the scene for a few slower paced tunes, Out Of Time, Trimm Trabb, Coffee And TV and Tender... which evokes possibly the biggest applause of the night (and a nice sideline of impromptu singing from the crowd!). There is a massive reception too for Country House... not a particular favourite of mine, but it goes down a storm!
One thing is for sure tonight, this reunion is for real... sure there's good money to be made along the way, but theses guys want it bad. There is a hunger about them, passion, and a spark... the kind of spark usually reserved for new bands who are still genuinely excited by what they do, before the music industry makes them jaded... Blur are genuinely excited by what they do. There is a fire burning in Damon's eyes that tells me that there are certainly more chapters to come in the Blur history book.
The spotlight switched to Modern Life is Rubbish as we are treated to a trio of songs from that album.. Oily Water, Chemical World and Sunday Sunday. Before starting the latter, Damon tells us that he's not really into audience participation, but when he starts jogging on the spot, we're all to start pogo'ing!! The moment comes when the frantic Sunday Sunday guitar solo starts, I swear I can feel the floor moving! We move seamlessly back to the Parklife album, and the title track (no Phil Daniels this time!), followed by End Of A Century and To The End... During the midway instrumental, I notice Damon look up to the ceiling with both hands raised aloft. After a few moments he turns to look at Graham with a mock confused look... It's a nod to the Blur shows of old, where at this point a large 'mirrorball' used to take centre stage. Graham grins like a schoolboy as Damon continued to search for the elusive disco accessory! There is an emotional rendition of This Is A Low and the band bow out to an incredible reception.
On their return we are fortunate to get what is likely to be a one-off rendition of Essex Dogs. I guess it's been added especially for tonight's location, and Damon tells us it's unlikely to remain in the set after tonight. He then asks the audience if they have some more energy.... they are going to need it, because the tempo is about to go off the scale! Popscene, Advert and Song 2! Damon is leaping around like a man possessed, including a trip or two into the heart of the audience... the grin on his face says it all... he's missed this interaction with his people! After another farewell, they return for the final three numbers.. Battery In Your Leg, For Tomorrow and the simply beautiful The Universal, which again leads to an impressive audience singalong.
There is genuine emotion from the band at the end, particularly Damon.... He tells us we have no idea how much the reception means to them. It's like they somehow had something to prove, and boy did they prove it.
Two hours ago I was worried the gig might not live up to my memories.... now I stand spellbound, having witnessed the best I've ever seen them... it really was that good. From Mod-life through Park-life and now into Mid-life... the years have been kind to the Blur back-catalogue, every song sounding as fresh and contemporary as it ever did. These songs may have shaped a generation, but now they are the anthems of a broad section of the population.... teens, twenties, thirties and forties were all bouncing together tonight in unison.
It's weird to think that having played to 1500 tonight, they will play for 100,000 in just a few days time as headliners at Glastonbury. Then it's onwards and upwards to their own Hyde Park shows. This is indeed the summer of Blur!

Finally, I'd just like to say a big 'thank you' to good friend Debbie, who secured the tickets for us... and without whom, we'd have missed out on this incredible night. Cheers Debs, we owe you a lunch!


She's So High
Girls And Boys
Tracy Jacks
There's No Other Way
Out Of Time
Trimm Trabb
Coffee And TV
Country House
Oily Water
Chemical World
Sunday Sunday
End Of A Century
To The End
This Is A Low
Essex Dogs
Song 2
Battery In Your Leg
For Tomorrow
The Universal

A very shaky POPSCENE! But it sums up the evening well - just check out the on-stage energy in this 3 minutes of mayhem!


Saturday 20 June 2009

Silvery - Nishikado EP

Regular readers will no doubt be used to me banging on about one of my favourite 'new' bands, Silvery. This week saw the release of their 5th single, the Nishikado EP.

With all the current interest surrounding the resurrection of Blur, these guys are now ripe and ready for picking... This is 21st Century Blur at its finest. Think Modern Life is Rubbish, the Kaisers at their strongest, the Cardiacs at their spikiest, XTC at their most majestic and Bowie at his Ziggy-ist. Add the artiness of Sparks and throw in a Wurlitzer fairground organ sound for good measure and out pops Silvery!

Nishikado (an ode to Toshihiro Nishikado, who invented Space Invaders in 1978!) is a real highlight of the bands live shows. Originally released on the bands debut album 'Thunderer and Excelsior', thise version is a brand new mix. And if that's not good enough, there's three new tracks on this EP... Identity, Murder Holes and Public Purse.

Here's the Nishikado video:

Silvery Links:

Buy Nishikado on iTunes

Buy Thunderer and Excelsior at Amazon

Link to the Silvery Website

Link to Silvery at Blow Up Records

Link to Silvery on MySpace

My exclusive interview with lead singer James Orman

My review of debut album Thunderer and Excelsior


Saturday 13 June 2009

Is It Live, Or Is It Memorex?

This week, someone in my office took their daughter to see Britney Spears LIVE at the O2 arena in London. I have to say I sat there open mouthed the next morning, as my colleague told me that Britney had mimed the whole show... I honestly couldn't believe it, so I looked up a few reviews on the net, and sure enough there it was in just about every write up. Yet one thing shocked me even more than the miming, and that was the apparent acceptance of it by everyone. Even the review on the BBC website said of the matter, and i quote "but does any of this really matter? not really". Not really?? NOT REALLY??! Have I missed something? When did it become OK to fake a complete LIVE gig??!

The news websites are full of interviews with excited teens exiting the venue, all gushing with praise at how "incredible" "amazing" and "awesome" the show was. Not a single one of 'em said "fifty f'in quid and she mimes?? What a rip-off! I want my money back!" (which is of course what they all SHOULD have said). Just seeing her prancing up and down seems to be enough to give these kids "the best day of my life...SHRIEEEEEK".

The excuse given for the miming (the management are not even trying to deny it) is due to the extravagant circus themed stage show. Britney is performing so many physical acrobatics during the show, it's just not possible for her to sing as well... Here's a crazy 'off the wall' idea for you... how bout you DON'T have her performing all the acrobatics then??! Maybe get acrobats in to do the acrobatics, and let the singer do the singing??! You did after all sell these tickets as a live music show, not a bleedin circus! The funny thing is, I've been searching the web for pictures from this "extravaganza", and to date have found nothing more physical and exhilarating than her strutting up and down the stage! Although the countless costume changes must have left the poor girl breathless, what a trooper!

So the question that immediately springs to my mind... was the circus idea invented specifically to prevent her from singing? You also have to think about the musicians in the show, were they bothering to play live if the 'star' wasn't? There is a chance that not a single note of this show was played live. I'd love to know what the legal position is if you sell tickets for a live music concert that is 100% backing tape.

This is yet another example of dumbing down in this world... I can't imagine anyone from my age group putting up with seeing one of their idols mime... I must admit, I bulked in the 90's when the boy-band\girl-band phenomenon really started to take hold. 5 good lookin' boys or girls in a line, all singing their hearts out... but hold on a minute, I can't see any instruments on stage! But this latest farce takes the biscuit. What next? £75 to watch a VHS video of Britneys greatest hits on a 28" TV at Wembley Stadium??! "ohh it was totally awesome, and so great to finally see her perform at Wembley" said the ecstatic girl with tears running down her face...


Thursday 11 June 2009

Take The Piley Challenge!

Quizzes are all the rage at the mo, and far be it from me to miss out on a bandwagon headin' my way!

So, woncha take a couple of minutes to try out the Piley Challenge? 10 multiple choice questions, EVERY answer has appeared in a blog post at one time or another, so lets see who the stalkers are out there!! If anyone gets 80% correct or over I'll stick the names in a hat and award a prize!! No idea what it'll be though!

Just click here and have a go... oh and it wont ask you for real names, e-mail addresses or any personal information (do please add a user name or nickname tho, so I know who to send the prize too!).

Readers of a certain age might like to watch this clip before starting the quiz... to really get themselves in the mood... (my quiz isn't from Norwich though, sorry...)

Good Luck!!


Saturday 6 June 2009

Keep The Change

I've toyed with this one for a while... my concern though is that people are gonna read it and immediately label me 'tight'!
I really don't 'get' tipping. Why is it almost obligatory for some jobs, but unheard of for others? Why would I feel incredibly guilty creeping out of my hairdressers having paid the exact money, yet wouldn't have a care walking out of my dentists, having accepted my 10p change??!

The usual response rolled out is the classic "these people are on minimum wages, they rely on tips". I completely buy that reply, and it's why I will always leave a good tip in restaurants (almost regardless of the service provided). But this argument is inconsistent... if we tip the service provided to us by minimum wage staff, why don't we tip the person on the checkout in the supermarket? or the person picking up rubbish in the high street? or even the child care workers who look after your kiddies at nursery?

And if we are tipping to top up low pay, what the hell are we doing giving it to taxi drivers, hairdressers, plumbers, electricians etc etc???! I pay £22 a go for my haircut... not bad money for an hours work, but I always give £25... yet I've no idea really why i give that extra £3 (other than the aforementioned feelings of guilt!). I guess in this case, the tip is for having done the task well, and yeah he DOES do a good job.... but surely that's what the other twenty two quid is for!!

So if we're now tipping for the 'quality' of the work provided, I'm not sure why we do it for some of the appalling service you get in restaurants these days. You can't have it both ways surely??! I've had waiters and waitresses who don't smile, offer no eye contact, make no attempt to hide their boredom, and almost throw the plate down in front of you... excellent work my man, have 10% extra for your trouble!
But if all of this confuses (and on occasions bugs) me, then it's nothing in comparison to those places that automatically ADD the service charge to your bill! Sometimes it's done so surreptitiously that you could be forgiven for adding another tip on top. You are of course within your rights to remove the added charge... if you've got the balls...
So, do you tip? If so, who to (and who NOT to)?? How much do you give, and if you don't do you feel guilty??

PS - if you've enjoyed this post and would like to show your appreciation, you can send me a 'tip' payment to my e-mail address via PayPal ;-)

Monday 1 June 2009

English Twiterature

I'll level with ya... I set up a Twitter account a while back, and whilst there are undoubtedly some nice people on there, I've got to tell you..... I think it's a tragic waste of time!!! It's been invented for the texting generation hasn't it? And although texting does have its uses, I think they are all personal ones (great for keeping in touch with mates, letting people know you'll be late etc etc). I do struggle with it in the outside world though. It makes me cringe when a radio debate show (Radio 5, TalkSport, LBC.. they all love it), say "text in your views now to....". In my opinion, if someone can convey their thoughts on the subject (and at times, these can be pretty heavy subjects) in 160 characters or less, then chances are they are a fuckwit!! Is that harsh??!!

Twitter take this to an all new level, 140 characters to wow people with your news... Hmmm, I don't think so! Due to the limitations, the 'tweets' are mostly of a tedious nature to say the least. It's all "had a great swim today" or "Mmm, yum yum, roast beef today, my favourite"... y'know, real earth shattering stuff. Sadly, this cartoon strip is probably not too far from the truth....
So of course, I was delighted to read that some of the world's best known literature has now been condensed to Twitter size... for all those people for whom reading is just too dull I guess (irony anyone??!). Tim Collins has just released The Little Book Of Twitter, which I assume (hope??!) has it's had tongue firmly in cheek. Anyways, here's a glimpse of a few classics, which should save you a few years worth of wasted reading time (no need to thank me!).

'Danish guy's mum marries his murdered father's brother. He sees his dad's ghost. Everyone dies. Fail.'

Great Expectations:
'Orphan given £££ by secret follower. He thinks it's @misshavisham but it turns out to be @magwitch.'

Wuthering Heights:
'Catherine Earnshaw marries Edgar Linton but really loves Heathcliff *sigh*.'

'Man walks around Dublin. We follow every minute detail of his day. He's probably overtweeting.'

The Da Vince Code:
'Professor of symbology tries to solve a murder by following clues around touristy locations in Europe. Very few paragraphs are longer than tweets.'

Pride and Prejudice:
'Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together.'

Bridget Jones Diary:
'Woman meets man called Darcy who seems horrible. He turns out to be nice really. They get together.'

I have to admit, the last two did raise a snigger!

Anyone a convert? Anyone who can actually see a use for Twitter that MySpace, Facebook, Texting or, god forbid, TALKING doesn't already cover??