Searching for inspiration

I’m looking for a domain name.

I get flashes of inspiration that occasionally produces solid gold possibilities, but when I check them out I find someone has got there before me.

The domain name is for the new media website that I have finally finished designing.

All I need is a name.

I thought I had the perfect one and nearly spent money buying it.

Just in time, before I pressed the ‘buy’ button, I noticed the typo.

Yeah, that could have been embarrassing.

So I’m still looking.

I can’t go in to details here, but if you’re feeling creative, leave a comment/drop me a line and I’ll email you the basic details.

Drunk (and also Not Drunk)

Listen kids, alcohol abuse is not big and not clever.

The night before last was a drinkers wet-dream. It started mid-morning on East 6th Street in Austin, Texas, and finished about 1am the next day.

In a nutshell, I found myself in a bar called ‘Bikinis’ (where the all-female mid-20s staff wear… well, I’m sure you can work it out).

Lunch at Bikinis on E6th Street

 

While I was sitting at the bar teasing the barmaid, I met a really cool guy from Nashville.

 

Fred.

 

And I had a few beers there.

 

 

 

Then I went somewhere else and had a couple there.

Then I went to the Austin Conference Centre to recharge my batteries (literally) and bumped in to a Spanish band.

They took me captive and forced me to drink a range of increasingly aggressive beers for about six hours.

Luisa, about to take control of me

 

 

Then one of the band, Luisa, felt I needed a bodyguard (as they had just released me from captivity).

 

And then it all got very hazy.

 

There was a lot more drinking.

 

 

And there were many, many bands seen.

Fortunately I have totally illegible notes to describe who I saw/heard and what I thought. Can’t think why my notes are illegible.

But that’s OK, I have a fallback, obv.

I woke up yesterday morning, after far too few hours sleep, with a mouth that resembled the floor in a Texan farmers bull-pen.

I also found myself looking at a small, tasteful tattoo of a blue butterfly.

Anyway.

Last night was a different kettle of fish.

I had a brilliant Mexican meal on E6th Street.

I interviewed a band promoter from Arizona.

I saw five bands.

I had two diet cokes.

And one beer.

And my notes are totes legible.

There is a moral to this tale somewhere.

I think it is: ‘Don’t drink and write notes’.

Gig review: Jonquil at Zodiac at The Oxford Academy, Saturday 11th October 2008

Our Oxfordshire-based gigging began on Saturday 11th October 2008 with a visit to Zodiac at The Oxford Academy.

The first band of the night to take the stage was The Great Eskimo Hoax:
This band is an interesting three-piece combo who played catchy, hooky material with its roots spreading from what used to be called shoegaze. Every number in their set was well constructed, skilfully played and professionally backed by energetic drumming, cool guitar and an impressive range of keyboard skills. They sampled elements of their live performance and used those samples to build more complex musical layers as they added these samples back in to their performance. The lead singer/keyboardist was a little bit Robert Smith in his performance and marked the conclusion of each song with a softly spoken downbeat ‘cheers’. The guitarist worked hard to underpin the melodies with a solid performance and the drumming supported the trio in a solidly knitted routine. It’s worth keeping an eye on this band; The Great Eskimo Hoax.

Next up was This Town Needs Guns:
These guys walked on stage in a more traditional line-up; a drummer and two (sometimes three) guitars. It’s worth pointing out the professionalism of the drummer – just a few minutes before they took the stage he was violently ill, yet he carried on and saw the set out. The lead vocalist gave us a fine display of early Morrisey dancing but sadly managed to let the band (and the entire audience) down by getting in to an argumentative discussion about Pink Floyd and then dissed The Floyd by calling them rubbish. The music industry has a saying: ‘Be nice to everyone on your way up because you’re going to meet them again on your way down’. With an unprofessional attitude like that my friend, you’re not even going to make it on the way up. I can’t advise anyone to give you any of their hard-earned money, you don’t deserve it.

Third band on stage was Jonquil:
I should pause a moment to say here that before the gig I knew nothing about any of these artists. The positive side of this is that I had no expectations. Jonquil plucked at my expectations and carried them higher with every number they performed for us.

I feel the need to address Jonquil’s genre and the best way of doing this is to ask you to pick one. Go on, pick a genre. Because Jonquil come close to putting a tick in most genre boxes – and at the same time they come close to putting a tick in none of them. If I had to pick a yardstick to compare them to I would say that Jonquil come close to being a distinctly British version of that talented group of eclectic Icelandic musicians: Sigur Rós. Whilst Jonquil haven’t yet achieved the maturity of Sigur Rós, they are very close to achieving the same versatility and range. Let’s just look at their on-stage musicianship for a moment: Trumpet (might have been in the key of C – I couldn’t see from where I was standing), flute, electric double bass, keyboards, drums, more keyboards, keyboarded mouth organ, electric violin, even more keyboards, tenor horn (in E Flat) and accordion. And guitars. Oh yeah, and one more instrument that they all played, their choral skills. Jonquil repeatedly built a series of chants and turned them in to finely woven choral passages. Very cool.

And what musical dishes did these six talented musicians serve up for our ears? Jonquil gave us a consistently solid performance of atmospheric, melodious, distinctive musical emotion. They loved being on stage, they loved performing for us and the crowd loved them right back. Jonquil’s performance was impressively professional from start to finish. I loved their show, I loved the feature and I loved the presentation of it. Their musical consistency could only impress even the most sceptical reviewer but by the end of their third number I wasn’t sceptical. I was totally on board.

So to sum up:

The Great Eskimo Hoax:
Edgy, cleverly constructed music well performed by a threesome who made themselves bigger than three people should sound. Distinctive, listenable, watchable for the future.

This Town Needs Guns:
A good performance but you don’t slag off one of the world’s most widely supported supergroups. This marks their set as wholly unprofessional and it left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth.

Jonquil:
Quirky, distinctive, melodic harmonies supported by an impressive range of musicianship. It would be well worth looking in to their catalogue, I guarantee you will find much musical magic in there.

And a quick note on the venue. After spending time in the corresponding venue at The Bar Academy in Birmingham I’m pleasantly surprised. The sound system at Zodiac was absolutely excellent. The engineer was on the case and the acoustics complemented the artists. It was a pleasure to listen to these artists. But the venue could have done with some seating.
B.

Gig review; Earth Calling Alice, Atticus, Birmingham, Sunday 17th August 2008

On Sunday evening we drove up to Birmingham to see Earth Calling Alice perform at Atticus in Bearwood. The gig was organised by an outfit called Acoustic Brew – more on them later!

A quick word about the venue. Atticus is self-described as a cafe/bar. It’s a large, split-level room with a mix of kitchen-ish chairs at small tables, comfortable chairs beside low-slung coffee tables and various standing areas built around shelves to place your drinks/food on. Along one long side of the room is a serving bar. Atticus is on the ground floor, so one ‘wall’ is a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass panel. It was in front of this large window that the PA, microphones and lights were set up.

During the setting up, as part of the level check, a guy who I’d assumed was a kind of roadie, whipped out a funky black six-string and started tweaking sliders and faders on a couple of mixing decks around his very comfortable rendition of ‘Fall At Your Feet’ by Crowded House. We clapped when he finished, it was that good – not a total carbon-copy; he made it his own, thoroughly likeable version.

Then ‘the roadie’ introduced the first act, The Abbott of Unreason, a musician based down in Worcestershire.

By the way, did you know that this weekend, Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th, is the Worcester Music Festival? No, neither did we. But now we have a list of artists and venues and may get involved.

Anyway, the Abbott, one man and his guitar. The Abbott gave everyone a competent, professional performance. The best in his repertoire, for my taste, was a modernised but faithful version of Up The Pool by Jethro Tull (taken from their brilliant album Living In The Past – a double lump of vinyl that went a long way towards defining Jethro Tull, and of course Ian Anderson, for the next decade or so). Not withstanding the unfamiliarity with The Abbott’s material I could appreciate his fine performance.

The second band on stage were the people we’d travelled up to see, Earth Calling Alice. I’d had a quick chat with the guys beforehand and the small amount of background information I’d gleaned turned them in to three people, rather than three anonymous performers. So our two guitarists were a teacher and an IT ninja and on vocals we had another teacher. Doesn’t knowing even this small amount of information add a new dimension to the band?

Earth Calling Alice may have been around for two years, but the two teachers have known each other much longer. The teachers found the IT ninja on an internet bulletin board, they started rehearsing and performing music together and Earth Calling Alice was born. How laid back does this sound?

That, for me, is the key to Earth Calling Alice. Apart from the fact that they are three nice guys, they really are laid back. See them off stage, chat to them and they are three genuine, likeable people. See them on stage and they are three musicians performing as one group; no stresses, no strains, no egos, just one band.

And they’re out there performing just for the music; they have no immediate plans to change from being teachers and an IT ninja to musicians. But my friends, the guitar-work was exemplary – even though one broke (a borrowed guitar quickly rectified things) – the harmonies were spot on and the lead vocalist stood up to the microphone and delivered a brilliant performance. Effortlessly. The ease with which Jim delivers a passionate performance of such high quality is almost… unnerving. Thrilling. Shivers down the spine kind of thrilling.

Did I say they’re performing for the music? Of course I did. Did I tell you that their new EP (Thankful for Mice) is available to you – right now – FREE OF CHARGE? No I didn’t, that was remiss of me. But it is! Details of how to collect it can be found at their website (below).

Their performance was brilliant though I shall never be able to listen to ‘Casablanca’ in the same way again; it is now an emotional trigger point for me.

When Earth Calling Alice had finished delivering aural ambrosia to my head and heart, ‘the roadie’ announced that we had an unbilled band stepping in; (the brilliantly named) Ivan Campo.

These three guys (another trio!) came on, tuned, warmed up, and started a repertoire of distinctly-sounding acoustic-based music. It was while they were warming up that I discovered that ‘the roadie’ who had delivered Fall At Your Feet was actually Mister Acoustic Brew (aka Dale Perry) – the promoter/organiser. Well maybe that explained his virtuosity!

Anyway Ivan Campo. Nothing to do with the talented Real Madrid player. Everything to do with distinctively-sounding acoustic music. These guys looked a little oddball but sounded quite exceptional.

Unfortunately it became time for us to leave – the early Monday morning alarm is an unforgiving beast – and this meant that we were unable to fully appreciate Ivan Campo or, sadly, hear Dale (Mr Acoustic Brew) come on and do his own set at the end of the evening.

But so that you can enjoy a little here are the websites of the bands, in the order they came on and played for us.

Please visit them – in the case of Earth Calling Alice, get their work, they’re giving it away! – and don’t forget to tell all of these performers how brilliant they are.

The mainstream recording industry would have us believe that home recording and file sharing is killing music. They’re wrong. The real music scene, as evidenced by the five bands that I have seen onstage in two days, is live – alive – and kicking.

Artists websites:

* Acoustic brew

* Abbot of unreason

* Earth Calling Alice

* Ivan Campo

* Dale Perry

B.

Gig review; The Razorbax, Bar Academy, Birmingham, Friday 15th August 2008

There were three bands on.

Unfortunately we missed the first act – Regus – but arrived while the second band, Barkerhound, were setting up.

Let’s be clear about something.

We were there to see The Razorbax. It wasn’t a ‘night out’, we weren’t interested in watching/listening to anyone else, we made the trip in to Birmingham for just one purpose.

But Barkerhound?

Bloody hell they rocked!

Hard-nosed, leading edge/bleeding edge fast rock.

The sound system could have done with being better run, the levels were a little unbalanced but even with this, they were impressive. And they seemed to have a loyal following who, once they’d finished their gig, began thinning out of the audience.

Worth keeping an eye and an ear out for that name, my friends; Barkerhound. I shall be googling them as soon as I’ve finished this review.

By the way – speaking of the gig overall – four quid for a pint of cider shandy and a diet coke? I must be getting old because I don’t think that’s too bad for a music venue in the centre of Brum on a weekend night.

Barkerhound finished, dismantled their kit… and then The Razorbax arrived onstage.

If that sounds as though their arrival was accompanied by a fan-fare from the Buglers of the Life Guards, Angels sweeping over the stage on wings of gossamer spreading rose petals before the four fantastic musicians as they walked on to the platform?

It didn’t quite happen like that.

But it should have.

It should have because from the moment they picked up and went – with very little preparation – straight in to it… they had me. I’m talking about serious musicianship accompanied by a thing that money can’t buy.

Stage presence.

The Razorbax stepped up to the plate and… owned it.

They looked comfortable right from the word ‘go’.

The most obvious thing to begin with is how good the Razorbax sound live. Some bands are predominantly studio acts who don’t quite achieve – on-stage – the high production levels they regularly get in a recording.

The reverse is true for other bands – they are energised by the audience, able to squeeze a fraction more from themselves in their live performances than their studio work.

The Razorbax cut right across these two categories. Their studio work – as we’ve heard a couple of times on This Reality Podcast – is tight, punchy and professional. Their live performance cuts it on every single level.

Louis their excellent drummer picked up the band right from the start and threw them in to their first number with such passionate yet measured abandon that it is almost impossible to take your eyes off him. Right from the outset he was the hardest-working member of the band. Which isn’t a diss on the others, it’s just that he set the framework for the three guitarists to fit in to. And they did – they fit in to it brilliantly.

James on bass guitar hardly stopped smiling all night as he worked hard on his fretboard. Laconic, laid-back, yet on the case, he tossed his strobing, probing bass runs in to the musical mix with pin-point accuracy.

Jack on rhythm guitar (by the way, happy birthday for last Friday Jack!) handed in a solid performance that would have put many professionals to shame. He was the perfect accompanying foil to the other three band members – sometimes out in front, usually supporting.

Leigh on lead guitar, backed by – almost egged on by – his fellow band members, ripped through the air like a razor-sharp knife (see what I did there?). Suddenly alternating between a mix of passive/aggressive styling right up to some serious in-your-face-with-attitude action, his style was the perfect icing on a cake of total perfection.

My repeated use of the word ‘tight’ when I describe this band actually undersells how good, how together these boys are. Musical maturity of such calibre in four young lads of their age? You’d have said ‘Impossible’.

But you’d be wrong.

They rocked. And not just with their own numbers – and I need to make that distinction.

This isn’t a band doing covers, this isn’t a talentless bunch of no-ability, no-chancers getting by on material written for them. These boys perform their own material – and it’s chart material right from the outset.

But the band also gave us a snippet of Away From Here by The Enemy which, I confess, got me bouncing. Yeah, we already know I’m sad.

A little later they broke in to a faithful rendition of Billy Bragg’s New England which, after 60 seconds or so, segued in to one of their own numbers so seamlessly that it was breathtaking to listen to.

They also dropped in the introduction of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Guns N’ Roses.

Talented musicians.

Because we – I mean the people we – because we need to break information down so we can understand it, our brains look for comparisons.

We say things like ‘That film director is the new Spielberg’ or ‘That painter is the new Hockney’.

And people have said of The Razorbax that they’re comparable to Green Day.

No, I’m sorry but no.

I’ve seen Green Day live twice.

The Razorbax are way better on stage than Green Day.

They have an edge that Green Day might have had once upon a time, but Green Day have got fat on the music, and lazy. And not hungry. They’ve forgotten what it’s all about.

The Razorbax are lean and hungry.

And British.

And professional.

The band let absolutely no-one down; they were performing 100% for the crowd all of the time they were on stage.

To anyone who wasn’t there…?

You missed the best live rock performance in my recent memory.

If you weren’t there, I feel sorry for you.

But if you were there… they were brilliant, weren’t they?

B.