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My musical ramblings – gig and album reviews, music news and views

Summer Sundae 2009 review – Friday 13th & Saturday 14th August

When The Streets and Dananananakroyd pulled out of Friday’s Summer Sundae line-up, the organisers of the Leicester festival must’ve been quaking in their wellies praying it wouldn’t rain on the parade.

They needn’t have worried – the sun still shined on the Sundae and melted many a music fan’s heart.

We were all pre-warned of Dananananakroyd’s none-appearance and once it was announced that Mike Skinner & co were also deleted from the main stage list, there was simply an echoing sigh and a collective shrug of the shoulder. No bottles hurtled through the air at the poor slumped-shouldered announcer as he stood on the pedestal of disappointment.

In fact everyone seemed quite contented to hear that Idlewild would be moved to pole position, with Beardyman replacing their tea-time slot. And it is this acceptance which in part illustrates why Summer Sundae is such a feel good festival. Spanning a small area across De Montfort Hall and part of Victoria Park, big named bands are simply an added bonus to the event. Festival goers are not forced to make many decisions between clashes of must-see acts, so this means people spend a huge chunk of their time lounging around in the sun, often staying at the main stage all day with a Mojito and an organic burger. As it is built on a smaller scale, you don’t have to walk miles to get to each end of the site and this means you find yourself wandering to alternative stages to check out other bands, only to be magnetically pulled back to the main stage within a two minute walk.

On Friday, it was Filthy Dukes who stole the show with their mid-evening indoor stage set. Although the gig begin with a small crowd, by the end the venue was packed full of dancing revellers who had gravitated to the room after glimpsing the party within. Highlights were In Rhythm and Messages, but the Dukes’ set was riddled with tracks to dance to and their enthusiasm and love for what they do got the sea of hands raised to the ceiling.

Filthy Dukes at Friday's Indoor Stage

Filthy Dukes @ Friday's Indoor Stage

Headliners, Idlewild, showed why they always should have been placed further up the bill to begin with, reeling off sing along tracks from 100 Broken Windows to the present, but there is still nothing like hearing, When I Argue I See Shapes, played at maximum volume with maximum heart as the Scottish rockers always do.

Idlewild headline Friday's Main Stage

Idlewild headline Friday's Main Stage

Earlier, Oi Va Voi had taken to the main stage violins akimbo, with a brand of Jewish and Eastern European inspired pop which was a great backdrop, although not to everyone’s tastes.

London beatboxer, Beardyman, used loops to cleverly mix in his sounds and created a DJ set which induced many of the crowd to a gentle bop. And although the formula ever so slightly tired towards the end of his slot, his best moments were when he broke into freestyle beatbox rap, mainly because people were able to actually see and hear for themselves the range and perfection of sounds he could make with his mouth.

Dan Black graced the indoor stage, drawing an ample crowd of people curious to hear whether after all the hype, his album, Um, really did stand up to the test. And whilst he entertained, it became clear that his two most well known tunes, the Rhianna Umbrella-sampled Symphonies and Wonder were the true gems of the bunch.

The re-hashed line up meant Mystery Jets were thankfully back on the personal bill after previously written off due to clashes. However, as on previous performances, though their tunes have a happy sing along quality, little about their set draws enough excitement for the band to be memorable.

And so to Saturday, where the Main Stage line up boasted Saint Etienne, The Charlatans and Bombay Bicycle Club and The Rising Stage offered heavier choices including Frank Turner and Future of the Left, whose latest album, Travels With Myself And Another, has gained much critical acclaim. Meanwhile, the Indoor Stage occupiers included Mr Hudson and Chipmunk.

During the day there was also time to check out the kids area in the gardens, where a huge mattress had been put up for pillow fighting, a library for storytelling and a huge 3 metre high scarecrow amongst other attractions. Other attention grabbers included the Comedy, Phrased and Confused and Cinema Tents.

It was the Main Stage though which held much of the gaze. Nottingham band Minaars, were a great mid-afternoon inclusion, with a catchy brand of indie saturated with Foals-style guitars and beats.

Then followed The Joy Formidable, a band hotly tipped for next year who have already racked up top notch support tours this autumn with Editors and Passion Pit. The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade and Cradle amongst others from EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, hit the mark perfectly and the goose bump-inducing wall of sound they produced did not go unnoticed by an ever-gathering crowd.

Throughout the afternoon and early evening Bombay Bicycle Club proved their status as one of the most promising bands of 2009 and amidst the humid heady haze at the Rising Stage, James Yuill’s folktronica collected a new music-hungry crowd. The dancing feet and smiling faces said it all, as the unassuming artist performed what can only be described as Jose Gonzalez meets Justice – a highlight of the day.

James Yuill @ the Rising Stage on Saturday afternoon

James Yuill @ the Rising Stage on Saturday afternoon

Perhaps the best accidental surprise of the weekend was Saint Etienne. The band were stumbled upon on a walk back to base camp and kept everyone mesmerised by their hit-filled list of indie dance-pop tunes. They were the perfect sunset band and delighted young and old, as well as the twenty and thirty somethings who were sailing on memories of club nights peppered with the band’s hit like the Neil Young cover of Only Love Can Break Your Heart.

As Saturday drew to a fitting close with former Britpop kids, The Charlatans, the main stage packed itself out and Tim Burgess did just what he does best – simple, Oasis and Stone Roses-tinged indie with sing along choruses.

The Charlatans close Saturday @ the Main Stage

The Charlatans close Saturday @ the Main Stage

The first two days of Summer Sundae left me on the kind of relaxed high which is rarely experienced with its larger counterparts. There were no aching feet, nor were there any feelings of exhaustion. In fact, the feel good factor of this carefully balanced family friendly yet hip festival had thoroughly won me over.

The organisers do an amazing job at Summer Sundae, cleverly weaving in classic names, buss artists, local bands to champion and music across the genres – all of whom are happy to play this boutique festival on the strength of its reputation.

My only gripe was that I wished I had opted for a weekend ticket.

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Reviews @ The Music Magazine

Plug plug pluggity plug…

I hear this place www.themusicmagazine.co.uk has some ace reviews.

My first one went up this week http://www.themusicmagazine.co.uk/reviews/4919 – it’s a review of The Phoenix Foundation’s ‘Happy Ending’.

Bless.

Filed under: album review, , ,

Arctic Monkeys ‘Humbug’ – album review

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug

 

Asking Queens of the Stone Age front man, Josh Homme to produce ‘Humbug’ was never going to result in a record which blended seamlessly into the other two albums rather like part three of a trilogy. 

 
Whether or not listeners knew the identity of the main producer before they first heard the album, on its inaugural outing, the Arctics Monkeys’ third offering does sound like a concoction of The Last Shadow Puppets and Queens of the Stone Age, together with elements of their old selves all rolled into one. And it is with this immediate judgement that anyone could be forgiven for believing that ‘Humbug’ does to the ears what drinking a cup of tea with ever-so-slightly off milk does to the mouth. It looks ok, but it doesn’t taste right.

 
Gone are the Sheffield tales of views from the afternoon, riot vans and stories of going back to 505 and largely removed are the raw, whirlwind tunes played and sung/talked at high speed. Instead, in their place comes an eerie, mostly mid tempo album in which the band take a necessary risk with their diehard fans, for the sake of an altogether more mature direction.

 
Look at the facts – five years on the northern upstarts have grown into hugely talented musicians and can no longer make albums about the old times, nor dwell on them to keep up a song writing guise. Things have changed. Alex now lives in New York separate from Nick O’Malley, Matt Helders and Jamie Cook and if we’re all honest, everyone including the critics would’ve called their third record stagnant and predictable had they come up with a ‘Whatever you say I am, I’m your favourite worst nightmare’ amalgamation. 

 
The QOTSA front man set the tone for the Arctics’ new direction when he declared, “If you can wear a cable-knit you can put a glockenspiel on a tune” to Turner.   With that, ‘Humbug’ is more considered and grizzly – a shadow of the former whippersnapper lines which make way for a sultry, slower sound with darker subject matter on the traps and temptations of women and life beyond Sheffield.

 
Even the recording location was at odds with past experience and instead of sticking to city studios where the lads could pop to the pub in between their parts, it saw them all travel to California to make much of the album with first-time producer, Josh Homme. The rest was put together with Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford in Brooklyn.

 
By the time the third listen has been and gone the album becomes spellbindingly impressive. The opener, ‘Propeller’, feels like an intro for what is to come and has tinges of haunting QOTSA-esque vocals, lines which scream of the double entendre, but with recognisable Arctics’ style snarling guitar riffs. 

 
‘Crying Lightning’ is a classic grower and the more you listen, the more you realise Turner hasn’t left behind his storytelling roots, nor has the rest of the band completely wallpapered over their musical footprints. It does actually sound faintly like some of their older tracks and follows the same formula as one such as ‘Do me a favour’, starting softly and building to a crescendo. Only this time around the boys have tweaked and honed their instruments to perfection and sound so polished no doubt even they may be startled by the reflection of the band they have become.
 
The second track, ‘Dangerous Animals’ is a menacing tale about the perils of the fairer sex and turns into a barnstormer with drummer, Matt Helder showing how brilliant he is.

 
Throughout ‘Humbug’ even the slower tunes like ‘Secret Door’ and ‘Cornerstone’ slot in to their very appropriate places on the album, as does Alex Turner’s more tuneful croon which he himself has admitted is largely down to his The Last Shadow Puppets project with The Rascals’ frontman, Miles Kane. The grace and grandeur of ‘The Age of the Understatement’ is a clear influence on the melancholic melodies, echo-laden guitars and musical depth of the softer parts of the album. 

 
‘Potion Approaching’ and ‘Pretty Visitors’ are the most comparable inclusions to the old Arctic Monkeys, with breakneck drums, tongue twisting verses and wry-smile inducing lines such as, ‘What came first, the chicken or the dickhead?’ 

 
Much of the album feels like a clash between an army’s frontline of galloping horses and a freakish fairground, with some quieter breaks in between. That helter skelter, carousel fairground ride feel is none more so notable than on ‘Dance Little Liar’ where the hook goes up and down mesmerisingly throughout the track’s entirety. 

 
Everything draws to a close with ‘The Jeweller’s Hands’ – a track stuffed full of perilous pianos, guitars and glockenspiel chimes, which is far from an afterthought placed on the album simply to bulk out the minutes.   

 
‘Humbug’ doesn’t provide an instant indie hit like ‘Whatever you say I am’, or ‘Favourite Worst Nightmare’. Not only does it need a few listens and some time investing in it to be able to see just how good it really is, but it also takes some shedding of preconceptions about what the band previously sounded like.

 
Perhaps they have been victims of their own success, as the formula they created on the first two albums was so successful it made fans crave more of the same – after all, people generally don’t like change at first because it feels wrong and unfamiliar.

 
And just as Paul Epworth’s and Timberlake’s signature is audible on the albums they have produced, the distinctive QOTSA frontman’s influence was always going to be transparent on the Arctic Monkeys’ new material, and the album is all the better for his musical wizardry. 

 
There are no ‘505’-esque spine tinglers on ‘Humbug’, but that’s not to take away the fact of the matter – this is a sublime third album. It is the record many a band should be producing by the time they reach this point in their careers, instead of blithely diving into the mainstream or playing it safe instead of challenging and developing their sound.  Humbug shows growth and maturity and an essential recognition by the Arctics that no band gets into the legendary books by turning out the same album, re-hashed, three times.

 
Those boys have been practising.

9/10

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