Sunday, 17 January 2016

Loving the Alien

A Tribute to David Bowie: 1947-2016

Those who were by the radio on Monday morning would have heard of the sad passing of one Mr David Jones aka David Bowie at age 69 from cancer.

There aren’t many artists that you can say were truly but Bowie was one of them constantly defying convention and challenging societies perceptions with every release and every new persona.

The total amount of personas that Bowie took on is something that the average artist can only imagine accomplishing. From his Ziggy Stardust days which are now the stuff of legend to his thin white duke periods to his current output which was his way of coming to terms with past activities possibly.

Bowie remained a reclusive with every release never fully revealing the man behind the mask always preferring to remain a mystery to his expanding fanbase. This is what made him so alluring as an artist. At times it seemed like his reality was close to his fiction as he demonstrated during his Aladdin Sane period. He was a purveyor of current trends whilst also changing the world’s perceptions of what an artist could achieve. He appealed to all generations and spanned all musical tastes. Whatever people thought of him there’s always a song that people can identify with. How many artists can you do that with?

It might have been ‘Heroes’ from his Berlin Period or ‘Starman’ from his Glam rock period. He was an artist in the true sense of the word with some of his guises questionable but you could never say he was boring. To his credit he never sought fame like the Z Celebrities of today choosing to let his art, music and performance do the talking rather than pander to the press’s advances.

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In his later years he settled on one persona and the past two years provided some insight on his clear state of mind with last year’s ‘ A New Day’ which features ‘Where are we now?” where Bowie is in a reminiscent frame of mind coming to terms with his life and the recent ‘Blackstar’ which was seen as his most adventurous yet.
I spent some quality time with Bowie for several months during my studies for my thesis and got to know him quite intimately strangely experiencing his ups and downs in his career and his personal relationships. One of my favourite albums is Hunky Dory (see above) as a piece of work its practically faultless containing two of the best songs in 'Changes' and 'Life on Mars' which is quite bonkers lyrically but musically fantastic but it was one of the underrated songs 'Quicksand' that came into mind when hearing of his passing. Bowie sings how he is sinking into quicksand while their gorgeous strings accompany his shaking vocal. I'm everyone has their favourite track but that was mine.
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Bowie lived and breathed rock n roll and brought happiness and joy to global fanbase always leaving them wanting more. He was someone who embraced outsider status given all alienated walks of life a voice and a stage whilst also changing the face of current music trends and of course fashion.

At 69 he was gone too soon seeming to have so much more to give to the world but his legacy will continue to inspire new artists as the set off on their musical journeys.
Ziggy played guitar and he will be sorely missed by all. RIP Davey Jones.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Benjamin Clementine @ Salford Lowry 1/12/15


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In an age of dreary X Factor hopefuls and manufactured pop acts it’s always easy to forget the existence of raw talent in the music industry.

Benjamin clementine represents a refreshing alternative to the norm having been born in London-he plied his trade busking on the Metros of Paris. He was picked up and had his first big televised performance on Later. His recent win at the Mercury prize confirmed his talent as well as restoring faith in creative music in general. His acceptance speech related back to the Paris attacks which he caused him to break down and he also asked for all nominees to join him on stage.

No sooner was he announced as recipient of the prize his show tonight at the Lowry along with his other tour dates became a sellout which all explains how highly sought after a ticket for the gig tonight is.

In the compact intimate surroundings of the Quays theatre the tension is building there seems to be an air of anticipation and excitement   in the air tonight that we’re all about to witness something quite special.

A tall shadowy figure enters from stage right he sits down and places his hands delicately on the grand piano and is lit by a solitary spotlight. This is the first introduction to the prodigiously talented introvert that is Benjamin Clementine.

What is strange about his presence is not the fact that he is tall but he’s perched on a high bar stool bent over the piano which he explains later on how this came to be a regular fixture for his performances.

Once people get over his strange poise what comes next is a selection of his material from his debut album including the stunning condolences with its piano refrain and the song perfectly showcases his gorgeous soulful vocal. He is at times brash and disorderly sometimes using his voice as instrument or reverting to spoken word mid song but he is never boring.  ‘Cornerstone’ is one of his other key tracks from the album might be stunning on record but its given a new lease of life in a live setting becoming a heartbreakingly beautiful  lament to a broken home, you can feel his anguish and pain as he stretches his vocals to their limit. It could easily be his ‘Hometown Glory’  and is destined to be a classic but it doesn’t stop there because he demonstrates the extent of his songwriting talent with ‘London’ which is a sweet ode to his English upbringing along with the playful ‘Nemesis’  which no doubt is in debt to his time spent in Paris with its cabaret-esque stylings.

His songs here have a raw honest feel without the inclusion of the string flourishes on his album which astonishingly doesn’t taint the performance if anything it makes him more captivating and more breathtaking live.

Whilst he may have elements of Anthony Hegarty, Rufus Wainwright and of course the sheer vocal power and gravitas of Nina Simone where he differs is that his songwriting is very much his own and throughout his blistering set he retains complete control of his vocal even when it seems like he is losing it. He is also very softly spoken and never raises his voice and much prefers to let his music do the talking which makes him all the more alluring.

Throughout his hour and half set he speaks little only to introduce the percussionist say thanks to the audience remark about the venue and the weather. Towards the end he addresses the audience in idle chatter which encourages some hecklers to point out the fact he is on high stool and it isn’t good for his posture. He reacts brilliantly by relating the story of him finding a Bar Stool for his flat in Paris and thanks the member of the audience for their concern and carries on. It seems at one point the performance is about to descend into ridicule but with his own humour he brings it swiftly back to the music.

Finishing with Adios he says quietly ‘that’s it now’ after which he stands up which causes a rapturous applause  and a standing ovation from the crowd. He takes a bow along with his percussionist and walks quietly off stage the same way he entered leaving the crowd to ponder what a spellbinding performance this was from a unique British musical talent.

 


 

 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Maccabees @ Manchester Ritz 13.5.15


It’s unusual for a band not to preface their gig with a taster of their new material. The only new track released before this tour was the driving rocker‘Marks to Prove it’ so there is an air of uncertainty as well as excitement to see how the new material goes down live.
Prior to the Maccabees long overdue return to Manchester its time for the warm-up band Gengahr pre-listens to a few of their tracks on Soundcloud suggests that they could be a good listen. It is disappointing that the band don't live up to that promise as they fail to ignite a crowd who are awaiting something special.
Gengahr resemble a lost puppy in a mincer. There’s clearly something missing here the backing is muscular but the vocals are too twee which leads to a clear disconnection with the audience its all a bit all over the place and bar their half decent single at the end their 30 minute set is a shambles which is a shame because underneath all the mess they could have some good songs.
Thankfully they are not the main event because the Maccabees herald their arrival to the stage with all their big hitters from their excellent ‘Wall of Arms’ album each one a mass singalong blowing their warm-up act out of the water.
 
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What’s great about the band is they are all about the music and people joining in for a shared experience that’s what makes the Maccabees connect with their audience. In a previous that I attended on the ‘Wall of Arms’ tour they stopped the music due to a scuffle in the front and wouldn’t restart until it was resolved.

The new stuff is decent too with the Maccabees taking a more heavier and experimental approach but they have never sounded better ’Marks to Prove it’ is given a new urgency live, even the old stuff sounds fresh most bands could only dream of having this many hits and still maintain that tangible connection with their audience . It is noticeable that they have moved on from their laddish ways and seem to be appealing to a new audience.
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Their old songs see them let loose as we are all reminded of those heady days when the Maccabees were first introduced. 'Latchmere' is a highlight with its call and response and precious time while new track something like happiness is a tad starsailorish and although has a good chorus lacks a bit of personality.

They end with ‘Pelican’ which shows how far the band have come. They are no longer little tykes they have all grown up but it seems they have not forgot their roots.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The War on Drugs @ Albert Hall Manchester - 18.2.15




Gracing most of the end of year lists last year The War on Drugs became the hottest new band that somehow everyone was talking about so how did an American band of relative unknowns become one of the most talked about bands of 2014.

This was probably due to 'Lost in the Dream' which demonstrated a pop sensibility underneath its motorik rhythms and as well as their excellent songwriting.

The band are playing two sold out nights at Manchester’s Albert Hall which itself is a magnificent venue perfect for the bands epic wall of sound.

Tonight there is a packed crowd anticipating the band’s appearance but that is to come a little later.First up its Amen Dunes who are the brainchild of new Yorker they are similar to the Philadelphian band but don’t have too much substance and most of their music just fades into the background.

Its clear that the crowd are really here for the main event as the hall increases in number. When the band enter the stage they open with album highlight “Under the Pressure” which blows away the cobwebs with its shuddering reverb signalling the start of a blistering 70 minute set of all and new tracks each showcasing the bands musical prowess the triumphant ‘An Ocean in Between the Waves’ and the breezy 'Lost in a Dream' which stuns the crowd into silence and the majestic pop of 'Red Eyes'. Its hard to resist the bands hypnotic grooves .The band barely pause for breath other than to briefly take in the venues surroundings and to address some members of the crowd.
 

The set-up is different from the record with a fleshed out band including brass accompaniment its all the more better with live instruments rather than backing track-you listening one direction?. It is also noticeable how tight the band are with each member committed to putting on a faultless assured performance.

Some quarters of the music press branded the band boring and were astonished when they were announced in the top albums of the year it’s clear that with this blistering assured performance War on Drugs are anything but- maybe some drugs aren't that bad for you.