PJ Harvey at the Victoria Warehouse

IMAG6239_BURST002_COVER

On Thursday we went to see PJ Harvey performing at the Victoria Warehouse in Manchester. I was rather a latecomer to her music. I’d always liked some of her songs but it was the release of Let England Shake 5 years ago, with it’s socially aware and political lyrics about Britain’s role in war from Gallipoli to Afghanistan, and effects on people – combatants and civilians –  set to simple but imaginative music, that got me interested in her work and which led me to exploring her back catalogue more thoroughly. She continued the political theme in her release earlier this year The Hope Six Demolition Project, with songs inspired by visits to the Middle East and Washington DC.

The audience was made up of a real mix of ages, with quite a high proportion of “oldies” so I didn’t feel out of place.

IMAG6246

PJ was accompanied by a band of 9 accomplished musicians, including long time collaborator John Parrish and the show started with them marching in line onto stage beating drums and playing saxophones for the first song, Chain of Keys from Hope Six Demolition Project. This led into a theatrical performance comprising songs from the last two albums with a few older numbers. They moved from one song to another without pausing to introduce the numbers. They only stopped for Polly Jean to introduce the band members (a mix of nationalities – she’s not a Brexiter) towards the end of the set.

IMAG6233

The performance was dominated by Polly Jean, a tiny, incredibly skinny, figure dressed in black with long trailing sleeves.

IMAG6235 (2)

IMAG6225 (2)

IMAG6243

IMAG6254

It was an excellent show which I thoroughly enjoyed, reinforcing my admiration for a talented artist.

Fortunately we arrived early. The venue, as the name implies is a former warehouse, a large open space, standing only. We were stood within 10 metres of the stage, close to the front, and had a decent view. However it wasn’t the same for everyone. There was a barrage of complaints from people who arrived later and were stuck at the back and whose view of the stage was blocked by other people. Some tweeted that they couldn’t even get inside the main room.

The venue have responded

“In response to suggestions that this event was ‘oversold’, we would like to clarify that ticket sales were within our licensed capacity and the promoter was working strictly to our guidelines in this area. The safety of our customers and staff is always our main concern. The issues that have been flagged up are operational ones.

“Although this was a very popular gig, there was in fact room for all ticket holders, with space available towards the middle and the front of the crowd. This has been confirmed by feedback from patrons situated in these areas. However, because there was no support act, there was little movement once people had found some space to wait in.

“The Victoria Warehouse loads from the rear, which meant that as more people arrived and the initial crowds remained static, there was a concertina effect that lead to a very busy area towards the rear bar. Those caught up in this have understandably interpreted it as ‘overselling’ of the event. We sent response teams into the crowd to try to move people forwards but with little success.

I don’t think that’s good enough. It is the venue’s responsibility to manage the crowd. By their own admission they clearly failed to do this and the result was that a lot of people were disappointed and their memories will be of these problems rather than an excellent performance.

I have to say I was not impressed by the venue management. I’d contacted them earlier in the week as I wanted to check on car parking near the venue. Once they realised I wasn’t enquiring about parking for the hotel on the site, they clearly weren’t interested and didn’t have the courtesy to respond. So the bad crowd management seems to confirm that the management are only interested in taking the money from their customers and once they have that customer service goes out of the window.

Kate Rusby at the Bridgewater Hall

It seems to have become a Christmas tradition for us – going to watch Kate Rusby. It’s the third time we’ve been the South Yorkshire folk singer’s Christmas show. The first time in Warrington 3 years ago. We missed out last year due to my jolly to Australia but this year made sure we got tickets for the show at the Bridgewater hall in Manchester last Monday.

Her Christmas concert is based around old traditional versions of carols as sung around the pubs in South Yorkshire (a tradition that’s probably died out by now). Some of the songs were well known carols but sung to a different tune – for example While Shepherd’s watched sung to “On Ilkley Moor B’aht ‘at”. Apparently the tune was written for this carol by someone from Kent, and it was only later adopted for the Yorkshire national anthem. In fact she performed 3 versions in all of this well known carol, all set to different tunes. This is another one

She played with her band – two guitarists (one her husband), an accordionist and a double bassist, plus a five piece brass ensemble. The brass band gave it a real northern Christmassy feel.

As previous years, the concert was in 2 halves, finishing, after the encore, at 10. So they were on stage in total for over 2 hours, but it didn’t seem that long. So another enjoyable night out. And Christmas starts here!

About the Young Idea

imag3107_21636053616_o

I was the right age to be a punk. However, although I liked some of the music, the aimless anarchism of the punk movement never appealed to me. But punk did achieve something significant– it renewed and refreshed popular music, taking it right back to the basics. Later, this allowed new bands to emerge, rediscovering older styles, but with a more contemporary twist. One band that did this was the Jam. Their music and style inspired by the Who, other 60’s Mod bands and the soul of Tamla Motown and Stax. And they adopted a retro, 60’s Mod style too. Now that was something that did appeal to me.

imag3095_21474263848_o

So when I was down in London and had a few hours to spare the morning of the second day, rather than hide away in my hotel room with my laptop working, I decided to take some “me time” and visit the exhibition about the Jam which was taking place at Somerset House.

About the Young Idea (the title taken from their single In the City) was

the first comprehensive exhibition about the extraordinary band whose music immortalised life for Britain’s disenchanted youth during the late 70s and early 80s. Through unseen material and fan memorabilia, the exhibition charts the trio’s journey from Sheerwater Secondary Modern in Woking to superstardom, (Somerset House website)

The exhibition explored the origins and  history of the band, the influence of Paul Weller’s father, John (it included a video tribute to him), their music and lyrics, their style, memorabilia and their relationship with their fans.

The first room looked at the origins of the band and included some interesting photographs of a young Paul Weller

imag3102_21671266641_o

and some drawings that he’d done

imag3103_21041106783_o

There were examples of their instruments (I can’t resist a good guitar!)

imag3096_21662075585_o

imag3098_21039438374_o

Clothing epitomising the Mod style

imag3097_21475280689_o

Records and record sleeves

imag3100_21671265531_o

and badges that would be worn by their fans (very popular at the time)

imag3099_21671264051_o

The band’s music was radical, many of their songs addressing social issues and progressive ideas. Many of them are still relevant today – The Eton Rifles, being particularly adapt when Old Etonians and other ex public schoolboys are ruling the roost.

Not surprisingly, examples of their music featured heavily being played on videos at the beginning

imag3104_21650714372_o

and towards the end of the exhibition

imag3106_21041107953_o

There’s only so far you can go  with a style of music and they split in December 1982 when Paul Weller decided it was time to move on, exploring different styles with the Style Council and as a solo artist. He’s still going strong.

Keep the faith

Wigan Casino, Station Road, late 70s.

(Picture source: Wigan World website)

All the hotels I’ve stayed in during my numerous visits to Ireland have had the main 4 British TV channels available. I was grateful of this last week when I wanted to catch an episode of BBC 2’s Culture Show. Presented by  Paul Mason, it explored one of the passions of his, and my, youth – “Northern Soul” and it’s mecca during the late 1970’s – Wigan Casino.

Northern soul was the label applied to black American music from the 1960’s and 1970’s influenced by the sound of Tamla Motown which became popular in the North of England during the late 1970’s. But it was more than a type of music. An underground “scene” developed  with it’s own fashions, energetic dancing and “All Nighters”. And many of it’s devotees, including me, were keen collectors of the music, seeking out, where possible, favourite rare records.

The “scene” grew out of the Mod movement in Manchester at the Twisted Wheel, a dance club in Whitworth Street in the centre of Manchester. Initially playing soul music which was popular with Mods, the club’s DJ’s started to seek out rare and obscure records, often dug up from warehouses in Detroit and other cities in the USA, with a frantic, uptempo beat and sung with raw emotion. “Motown with a rougher edge” as it was described on the programme.

When the Twisted Wheel closed in 1971, the baton was passed on to clubs including the Golden Torch in Stoke on Trent and Blackpool Mecca. But probably the most famous Northern Soul club of all was the Wigan Casino. Located in the former Empress Ballroom on Station Road the first All Nighter was held on 23 September 1973.

Paul Mason is Culture & Digital Editor for Channel 4 News, and was, until recently, Economics Editor for the BBC’s Newsnight. He’s a “lobby gobbler” (i.e. someone from Leigh, a town  five miles from Wigan) and, like me, in his youth was a regular visitor to the All Nighters at the Casino. Yes, I used to turn up at midnight, dancing all night until the final strains of the “three before eight” the next morning. And I have to own up to wearing the essential outfit, including the Spencer’s Bags – 40 inch bottoms (around each leg) with a 32 inch waist.

The programme celebrated Wigan Casino 40 years after the first All Nighter and as well as telling the story of the club included interviews with “soulies” past and present. One of my favourite quotes came from a regular at the Twisted Wheel, the punk poet John Cooper Clarke –

“There isn’t a bad Northern Soul record”

The Casino closed for the last time in December 1981. The local Council wanted the land for an extension to their offices the “Civic Centre” although that was never actually built. The building burnt down a few years and today is buried beneath the Galleries shopping arcade that has been built over Station Road (another example of a public street privatised and inaccessible outside of shopping hours)

(Image source Wikipedia)

But like many music scenes, Northern Soul still survives with original devotees, now in their fifties, attending events all over the country as there has been a revival in recent years. The programme showed that many of them can still “strut their stuff”. And Paul Mason himself, very gamely I felt, relived his youth by stepping out and attempting the dance steps of his youth. I don’t think I would have been so brave to try that on TV, but I have to admit to moving around the dining room at home (when no-one is watching!) while playing records from my collection and on the very rare occasions when I attend a dance at a wedding or event and the DJ spins a “blast from the past”.

These days my musical tastes are quite broad – including soul, rock, jazz and classical – but I still hold on to my collection of Northern Soul records and many of my favourites are included on my ipod and Spotify playlists.

But the Culture Show wasn’t the only programme on the BBC that week about Northern Soul. The previous Saturday I listened to a programme on Radio Four introduced by former Radio One DJ Anne Nightingale,  Shine Like Tokyo – Northern Soul Goes East! about the thriving Northern Soul scene in, of all places Japan.

The Hallé at Jodrell Bank

P1080618

Although the Autumn Equinox is a few weeks away, for me, the 31st August effectively marks the end of the summer. This year we celbrated it by attending the concert by Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra that took place at Jodrell Bank, the site of one of the massive Radio telescope, which is part of Manchester University’s Department of Astronomy. The concert was part of a series of one day concerts, Live from Jodrell Bank: The Transmissions, that have taken place there for a number of years. Previous Transmissions events have featured concerts by The Flaming Lips and local band (well fairly local, they’re from Bury) Elbow. This year there were two events. On Friday night there was a rock concert headlined by the Icelandic band, Sigur Rós, with the Hallé concert on the Saturday.

The blurb for the concert told us that it would be

A concert inspired by the stars will feature Jupiter and Mars from Holst’s The Planets, classics by Strauss, Mozart and John Williams, as well as a selection of out-of-this-world film music such as Star Wars, Independence Day, E.T., Apollo 13, Close Encounters and more.

We had planned the day as a family outing a few weeks ago and had our fingers crossed that the weather would be fine, especially after a good summer this year. We weren’t disappointed. Although it had turned cooler, with a fairly strong wind, it stayed dry, with only a few minutes rain towards the end of the concert. And as there had been relatively little rain in Cheshire over the summer the ground was dry – so no wellies needed!

P1080617

Although the concert wasn’t due to start until 8 o’clock, we arrived about 4 o’clock. There was music – a DJ playing “cosmic music” interspersed by live performances by songs from Musicals and the James Bond films. There was also a talk by Professor Tim O’Brien from the Observatory who told us about the history of the telescope and played sounds it had been recorded going right back to when it tracked the Sputnik launch in 1957. There was also a Science Arena with lots of hands on experiments and  demonstrations of scientific principles by students from the various science departments from the University. So there was plenty to keep us amused. And the telescope was a towering presence in the background.

We’d packed a pic-nic with sandwiches, crisps, Doritos, cheese, biscuits and treats from Marks and Sparks. Some people had really gone to town with x bottles of sparkling wine, food and candles laid out on portable tables. We’d taken a couple of folding chairs and a pic-nic blanket.

8 o’clock soon came round and the Hallé came on stage starting with the introduction from Also Sprach Zarathustra. The acoustics weren’t anywhere near as good as the Bridgewater Hall, the orchestra’s usual home, but the setting , with the stage in front of the giant dish of the telescope, made it a great spectacle.

P1080669

Part way through the first half, as the light was beginning to fade, the dish, which up until now had been facing away from us, began to turn around until it was facing directly toward the audience.

P1080625

2013-08-31 20.30.34

And it became the ultimate big screen as images were projected onto it’s surface.

P1080630

The dark drew in and during the interval  a film about Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of the telescope who died, at the age of 99, last year. Fittingly, Saturday would have been his 100th birthday.

At several points during the film a giant image of the dish was displayed on the real thing.

P1080633

During the second half of the concert, the dish really started to come into it’s own as images were projected on to it to accompany, and complement, the music being played by the orchestra.

P1080648

P1080661

P1080663

P1080666

P1080698

It kept dry too, except for a short burst of rain. But even that added to the experience as it came down at a point when searchlight beams were being shone out into the audience and the raindrops were scattered by the light creating their own dramatic effect. It was almost as if it had been planned.

P1080670

And at the end of the concert, the finale – what else but the theme from Star Wars – was accompanied by a firework display.

P1080674

P1080685

P1080692

And then an encore – the Doctor Who Theme – accompanied by more fireworks.

A great end to the night.

As I’d expected, getting off the site and the car park was a rather chaotic experience and so although the concert finished at 10 we didn’t get home until after midnight. But it was a memorable night. A good concert with music we all enjoyed and a great experience too.

Mutefish

2013-04-19 17.11.02

This group caught my attention as I was strolling down Grafton Street in Dublin on Friday evening. Looking like they’d escaped from the backwoods of the Appalachians or the love children of Seasick Steve, they played a very infectious modern take on traditional Irish music mixed in with other influences including Eastern European folk (some of the band members are from Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine ), rock and reggae.

They busk around and about Dublin and sometimes tour around Europe. On Friday evening they attracted a significant, enthusiastic crowd. Definitely worth catching.

Dr Feelgood on the BBC

Every Friday evening the programming on BBC 4 is devoted to music, showing documentaries about artists and musical styles and pulling out archive material from performances on long defunct music programmes such as Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. Last Friday 70’s rock was on the agenda with a documentary about Graham Parker (of Graham Parker and the Rumour fame) and clips of artists such as Ducks Deluxe, the Pretenders, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds and, the best of the lot in my biased opinion, Dr. Feelgood.

The programmes culminated in a showing of Julian Temple’s film "Oil City Confidential" about the band. I’d seen the film when it was shown at the Odeon in Manchester Printworks as part of a special event where the film was screened at a number of selected cinemas around the country and wrote up a review on the blog here.

Dr. Feelgood were a raw R&B band from Canvey Island who were very popular in the 70’s. I was a big fan at the time. Their raw style pre-empted punk to some degree and they were certainly an influence on the likes of Joe Strummer and Johnny Rotten. Their original guitarist, Wilko Johnson, is one of my guitar heroes, he has a very distinctive style mixing rhythm and lead together. He’s still around, but only just. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has only a few months to live. His response? To go on a farewell tour! That’s what I call rock and roll.

But Wilko will be sadly missed. His distinctive guitar style, manic stage presence and eccentric character.