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

Primal Scream: Leicester O2 Academy – 24 March 2011

Bobby Gillespie's Primal Scream

We seem to have a trend developing of late, thanks largely to ATP, for tours that are dedicated to exhibiting albums in their entirety. For some artists, it appears to be a credible way of nourishing the ego and playing material, ‘the way it was intended’. But for Primal Scream’s Screamadelica gigs, it’s given their crowds a chance to capture the landmark album’s trippy highs and lows that mirrored the culture and feelings of a generation, in one journey.

Rarely does Leicester’s Academy draw such diversity, but that’s testament to Primal Scream’s appeal down the years. This tour finds them in stark contrast to the druggy days of 1991 when Screamadelica was released, and Bobby Gillespie himself abashedly suggests they are now “a bunch of old men” – though his sharp dress belies the battering he once gave his body.

The band plays tracks 1 to 10 straight through, choosing to break with Screamadelica at Come Together, right before the record plunges itself into cold turkey. It’s a wise choice as it creates the right party atmosphere for three raucous, rock ‘n’ roll hits – Riot City Blues’ Country Girl and from Give Out But Don’t Give Up, Rocks and Jailbird.

The gig is injected with celebration from the start – Movin’ On Up, with Andrew Innes’ trademark riffs, and Don’t Fight It, Feel It, where original co-singer Denise Johnson injects powerful gospel vocals into the ’90s rave flashback. It sends mops of male hair flailing in the strobes.

It’s the album’s wilder parts that shine, from the trippy highs to polar opposite lows with Damaged, and I’m Coming Down’s soft electronic waves, set against Gillespie’s slurred “I’m coming down, I can’t face the dawn”. Loaded sends the crowd into half melancholic, half ecstatic reminiscence as soon as the first saxophone notes hit. Pushing the dizzying psychedelica and woozy moods into overdrive, Come Together is backdropped with a spiralling multi-coloured vortex, holding an eye at its centre. Gillespie and Johnson sing it like a congregational prayer to siphon an acid trip without the acid.

What is immediately striking is that this Screamadelica tour arrives at almost a polar opposite time to its 1991 release date. Back then, the post-’80s Thatcherite days had lifted a cloud from the nation’s outlook, but on Thursday in Leicester – political climates, fuel prices and all else considered – things felt entirely different. The bumpy ride of late would explain why the gig feels like a chance, for many, to re-enter that mellow bubble they found themselves disappearing into the first time around.

Importantly though, Primal Scream recreate that bubble with ease, rendering Screamadelica in the live setting the irresistible prospect it always has been. It doesn’t matter whether you approach the gig out of nostalgia or pure musical appreciation, the band’s obvious delight and passion for playing their masterpiece hasn’t changed, nor has its timeless quality, or their timeless ability. And on the night, its exuberant positivity is an absolute pleasure to get lost in.

Reviewed for musicOMH

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Summer Sundae 2010 – festival review

Summer Sundae 2010 - crowds at the Main Stage

Reviewed for Gigwise

The story of Leicester’s Summer Sundae 2010 will always tell that it was a shrewd early move to book Mumford and Sons that ensured the safety of the much-loved festival’s tenth anniversary.

A lot of proverbial eggs were placed in one basket when the popular indie-folk act were boldly announced as Sunday’s headliners. Organisers must have been rubbing their hands together as the foursome notched up best Glastonbury performance, rubber stamping a sell-out for the festival based at De Montfort Hall and its leafy grounds and part of the city’s Victoria Park.

Friday’s headline was grabbed by a down-to-earth Seasick Steve’s eagerness to play longer than his allotted slot, and so, starting earlier than planned, the blues musician flaunted a long and raucous list of favourites from his five albums. The hobo-turned-music-star flirted with an array of busking instruments and silenced any naysayers in the process, even managing to woo an unexpecting female fan with a dedicated song.

Meanwhile, a luckily timed quick shifty indoors saw Roots Manuva calling all to raise their index finger and declare, ‘One hope one quest’, as he unveiled Witness. The British hip hop artist proved that like Seasick Steve, he was also a master of a polar opposite side of the musical spectrum.

Earlier that day, Kyte’s shoegaze indie kicked off the main stage weekend with an aplomb that belied their baby faces, no more so than during the cover of Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill. Erland and the Carnival, comprised of former Blur and The Verve’s Simon Tong, Paul McCartney’s Fireman’s David Nock, and the immaculately-voiced Erland Cooper, took to the increased-capacity Rising Stage with triumphantly revamped folk antiques.

That paved the way for a not-disappointing set from The Sunshine Underground back in the main arena, whose sing-a-long mid-noughties indie classics like Borders and Commercial Breakdown hit the mark and kept a bulky audience rooted to the spot during torrents of rain. Glaswegian alt-rockers, Teenage Fanclub followed, making a welcome comeback appearance to the festival breach.

Twenty-strong female choir, Gaggle, kicked off Saturday’s main stage lineup with woe-betide tales of men, debauchery, drugs and drunkenness. Their powerful acapella and drum beats were the perfect tonic to blow away the cobwebs. Dog Is Dead might have been all-male and a quarter of the size, but they continued the pitch-perfect harmonies indoors with refreshingly different jazz-infused indie with tongue-in-cheek shouted lyrics like, “This is a zoo, could you not feed the animals?”

We Show Up On Radar’s gentle electronic folk at the Rising Stage was child-friendly enough for toddlers to fall asleep in their parents’ arms and audience-friendly enough to induce a sway at the front, or some wellies-off time at the back. While popstrel, Diana Vickers, faired well with a young audience; her number one hit, Once, and a little-known aptitude for trumpet playing thanks to an instrument she named ‘Tommy’, got the best reactions.

Fun, mystical, folky poptronica from Tunng followed indoors, but it was Caribou that packed out the venue. Grouped at centre-stage, Dan Snaith’s foursome rolled out funky grooves, pulsating acid house, psychedelica and plenty of bleeps and tweeps, culminating in an extended version of the Mr Scruff-esque Sun from recent critically acclaimed album, Swim, to mark a festival highlight.

The Go! Team’s first performance in two years cranked up the evening pace at the damp Main Stage ready for Tinchy Stryder. But it was the return of Mark E Smith’s on-stage nonchalance that was the talk of the festival that night, as The Fall graced the alternative headline spot. It might not have been to everyone’s taste, but the performance was enigmatic and showed just why the band had been so influential to punk.

A closing late night live set from The Whip stirred the remaining partygoers into a soft peak as Saturday hit its climax.

For the most part it was the DrownedInSound Indoor Stage that harboured the anticipation for Sunday’s bands. Lo-fi tales of young love from Summer Camp were at times beautiful, at others, a little too sickly sweet. Errors’ angular electronic post rock went down a storm, before twee-indie favourites, Los Campesinos! justified the size of their crowd in De Montfort Hall. The ecstatic audience reactions to You! Me! Dancing! obviously delighted sharp-tongued lyricist, Gareth, as an impromptu stage dive during Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks resulted in a catalogue of injuries and mild concussion that somehow didn’t stop the remaining two minutes of the band’s set.

Frightened Rabbit’s rousing, gut-wrenching high points from across Winter Of Mixed Drinks and Midnight Organ Fight, delivered by Scott Hutchinson’s endearing Scottish twang showed the band as one of the most, if not the most exciting of their genre at the moment.

Earlier, at the main stage, the sun had finally hardened the mud and the crowds were happy to sit and listen to a day of stomping folk and acoustics, which would become both a theme and a slight criticism as the pace remained rather static. Nonetheless, it was easy to drink in the sounds of Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit, as well as Jose Gonzales’ Junip, who mixed a heady cocktail of the ambience of Air with lulling plucked guitars and effortless vocals.

But it was Mumford and Sons who won the heart of the weekend. An abashed Marcus declared how honoured the four were to play their inaugural headline spot at Summer Sundae, but admitted there had been a double-edged sword to their meteoric rise, as they had struggled to gather enough material to fill the hour-plus slot. The band needn’t have worried as every Sigh No More track was an audience favourite – The Cave moistening eyes and loosening even the most tired of feet.

Indoors, The Futureheads took their stiff competition a rival headliners with great humour and did not suffer painfully on numbers, as a busy crowd duly obeyed Barry Hyde’s request for them to do the ‘bouncey bounce’ dance during Skip To The End. The Mackem three’s loyal cohort were clearly determined not to be wooed outdoors, away from their dry wit, tongue twisting lyrics and catchy guitar riffs at breakneck speed.

One thing is for sure, having wavered on the brink of cancellation throughout the latter part of 2009, Summer Sundae came back fighting for its tenth anniversary and proved it has become a vital fixture of the British festival calendar, with a dexterity that allows it to span both generations and genres.

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O2 Academy to open in Leicester

Leicester has been firmly placed back on the musical map as a touring destination for big bands with the announcement today that three new music venues will open in the city.

From September, Leicester University Students’ Union will play host to a new O2 Academy, opened by the Academy Music Group (AMG).

It will be the first East Midlands city to host the AMG O2 venues, with a large 1,450-capacity venue as the main Academy, 500 at Academy 2 and a smaller, 250-capacity venu as Academy 3.

This announcement boosts a city which has, in recent times, struggled to make its musical mark following the closure of The Charlotte and financial trouble at the Council-owned De Montfort Hall.

Plan-B will be the first act to play on October 28.

The original announcement can be found here.

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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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