Call me Russ L

The weekend before last

Posted in Music by Russ L on 8 January, 2006

Originally posted on 23/9/5.

Bloody hell, everything in this scribble was ages ago. I really need to learn how to motivate myself. I’m getting well behind with this, and I’ve done all sorts. It was the occasion of the annual Birmingham Artsfest – every previous year I’ve managed to miss all of it, but I’m getting better. This time I just missed most of it.

Friday (the 9th) saw the free ‘Reggae Rockz’ festival taking place in Centenary Square, and I was well chuffed with it. Not a bad act all evening.

Our comperes Amlak Tafari and ‘Pinkie’ Laverne were likeable and charismatic people, but their comic skits between bands were bloody wearying. I was happier towards the end when the fact that time was becoming scarce compelled them to drop them.

The Reggae Rockz Young Allstars were on first, product of a summer class type thing. Very good for kids having a go. I approve of this sort of thing – it’s a much more productive and positive use of their time than a lot of things the little bleeders could be getting up to.

Tuffluv were on second, performing covers of Lovers Rock songs. I know I normally hate covers bands. I’m going to have to think up some sort of convincing reason for the philosophical u-turn but I’m struggling right now this minute, give me a while. Sweet and soulful, anyway, and just lovely.

Sort of a covers act and sort of not (since the man himself had a hand in writing most of the songs) were The Neville Staples Band doing Specials and other old Two-Tone songs. Loads of fun. Staples is an ace blur-of-movement frontman, his sometimes ‘erratic’ vocals only adding to that.

A break from the main theme came (it may not have been precisely at this point. I think it was) in the form of a choir from Nechells performing a few traditional African songs. An interesting little interlude.

Gabbidon’s set was probably the least of the night for me. Reggae meets rock promoting unity in a style that felt born to be played at Live Aid style benefit festivals. Still quite good.

Dawn Penn was the artiste I was looking forward to the most. I only really knew ‘No, No, No’ beforehand, but I love that very very much. Her reggae is very soul-influenced, and she has an incredible amount of calm, collected cool about herself. The synthesized horn sounds the keyboard player was using (General MIDI?) were bad, very bad, but not enough to ruin anything. ‘No, No, No’ itself was fantastic, and another one I can cross off my list of Classics I’m Glad That I’ve Had Chance To Hear Live Before I Die.

The Beat’s set was shortened to only four or five songs due to time constraints (no time for ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’ – boo!) but they were still ace. They were the band of the night most reliant on energy rather than groove, which made for quite a refreshing change in context. They played a couple some new material, of which the last song was excellent (quite dance-y).

The appearance of Steel Pulse was delayed by some technical difficulties. Dennis Seaton of Musical Youth fame appeared, originally to sing his new single (a cover of something. I can’t for the life of me remember what, other than the fact that it was a cover). That went a bit awry when the backing track played about as quietly as it is possible to whilst still making a sound. Then called on to fill time whilst the Steel Pulse camp sorted out whatever they needed to sort out, he led the crowd in a mass singalong of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” Everyone singing along to such a lovely song really made for a really nice moment.

Steel Pulse eventually appeared, and I was very tired by this point. As such I had to leave after a few songs. Their live sound appeared to have a lot more going on than you might expect, with lots of synths and so on. Loads of groove, as ever. I’ll have to go and see them again at some point to get a proper idea of them live.

Saturday the tenth it was to The Hare And Hounds in Kings Heath for some metal. I’d never been there before, but found the place by means of the ‘stare fixedly out of the window of the bus until you actually see it’ method. Quite a big room upstairs, but with half of it filled with chairs and tables it did have a bit of a performance-at-a-supper-club vibe. Tablecloths and scampi in a basket would have helped. Ironically enough, while I’m someone who doesn’t tend to moan about people sitting down at gigs, I was actually standing (albeit at back).

Imindain from Stoke (I think) were on first. They played MDB/old Paradise Lost type doom, picking it up for a teensy bit of a thrash at times. Alright-ish, but I couldn’t fairly say that they were more than moderate diversion.

Rannoch were tech-to-the-nical, playing some really good complicated thrash. The drums sounded like someone banging on Tupperware tubs with the handle of a wooden spoon during their set, but no matter. Brutal and very technically proficient, but neither quality emphasized at the expense of everything else. I want to hear more.

In the days since Medulla Nocte I’d forgotten how good/scary Paul Catton is. I loved that band, but for some reason had never got around to checking out many of the offshoot groups. Having downloaded about half of Lazarus Blackstar’s album on recommendation from a friend, I was really looking forward to seeing them (and I bought the album at the gig, moaners). The music sounds like hell on wheels, for a start – absolutely annihilating sludge metal. Catton, aside from his unbelievably twisted voice, just looks so autistic onstage with his one arm hanging limp, and what better killing machine than someone who has trouble understanding the thoughts and feelings of others? I was sludged to death. Fantastic band.

During the daytime on Sunday (the 11th) I went into town to see the only bit of Artsfest beyond Reggae Rockz that I managed (still better than my usual nothing, pal) – Lawrence Inman’s spoken word/stand-up thingy “How To Be A Brummie In 13 Painful Lessons.” I’m not a Brummie, obviously, I’m a Yam-yam, but we’re seen as much alike by the outside world so some solidarity is called for. Very funny, anyway, even though it was cut down considerably from thirteen lessons by the dictates of the Artsfest committee. Does this mean that there’s a more complete version yet to be performed?

Sunday evening I went to The Academy to see John Legend again. Irritatingly, I didn’t know that the support was to be Estelle. Damn And Blast! I would have loved to have seen her properly. I arrived in time to witness her last two songs, blessedly including ‘1980’ and she seemed great. So irritating, though. If I’d been aware that she was opening I definitely would have arrived earlier. I suppose it serves me right for not arriving early anyway.

There were a lot more people there for John Legend than the gig he played here in May. It’s not a bit surprising, but still good sign for good music. He played a similar but not identical set. He put a bit of Dawn Penn’s “No, No, No” (co-incidentally enough) in “Used To Love You,” “Refuge” again proves itself to be much better live than on record, the new song he played sounded cool (I forget the name, sorry), and he was ace all round.

Good weekend, on the whole.

~ Russ L



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