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Entries in brighton (13)


Gum at the Green Door Store - take 2

Gum were back at Brighton's Green Door Store yesterday, just over a year since I last saw them play there. They've come on a lot, helped, no doubt, by the focus and concentration of their recent European tour with Ringo Deathstarr. 



New drummer Nick adds power and invention to a more cohesive backline, with Jess's bass pushing more strongly than before. Chris and Grant's guitars swirl and storm but never wholly bury some pretty melodies.

There's more confidence and a sense of fun about the whole thing - a compelling swagger, of a suitably shoegazey sort...

I know I could be biased but they're on fine form and well worth seeking out, as a bouncing and appreciative audience last night would confirm. A new single should be out any day now and an album is on the way.


Tom Russell in Hove, actually

It is one of life's continuing mysteries how as good a songwriter as Tom Russell manages to stay below so many music fans' radar.

His gig at Hove's Palmeira pub was the last on a British tour which I haven't seen written up elsewhere. Of course, it was sold out - but, come on: that means maybe a hundred people. Even I have sung a song at the Palmeira...  Tom was reminiscing fondly about the last time he had played Brighton at 'an East Indian ballroom' (the Hanbury in Kemptown). I've also seen him at the Greys (a far smaller pub than the Palmeira) and the Anchor out in Barcombe (hidden in the depths of the country, beyond the reach of our satnav).Why not the Dome - which regularly features folk who live many floors below Tom in the Tower of Song? Go figure.

It feels wrong to say 'Tom Russell gig' in the same way that 'Gillian Welch concert' is only halfway there. The great Thad Beckman is Tom's David Rawlings, conjuring similarly beautiful and essential sounds from his battered and ancient Gibson. Perhaps less oblique in his strategies than Rawlings, but full of both subtlety and power, and blessed with jaw-dropping technique. There were frequent pauses for roaring applause after beautiful solos - with Tom mock-ruefully decrying his audience as 'bastards'.

Russell's interaction with the crowd is practised and warm, with lots of stories and bizarre asides. He enjoys trying out his British accent, playing around the familiar local Brighton line that he is now in Hove, 'actually'. Over the evening we also get a burst of Norwegian (in honour of some fans who've flown in from Bergen); a graceful acknowledgement of shouted praise for his pristine new cowboy boots (seemingly made of orange suede); and Pancho Villa's final words (clearly a born delegator, they were 'don't let it end like this - tell them I said something').

I do sometimes have a problem with Tom's more sentimental side, but not this time. He played some songs of that can cross the line - 'Finding You', 'Guadalupe', 'Nina Simone' - but kept them straight, direct and powerful. The set as a whole was simply one to treasure, stuffed full of classics and probably the best I've seen him play.

Too many highlights to enumerate fully, but let's list a few: an inspired immigration double-punch to end the first set of a beautifully sung reading of the glorious 'California Snow' followed by a stonking and unanswerable singalong 'Who's Going To Build Your Wall?'; then a similar double-punch closing the second half, with an appropriate boxing theme - 'Muhammad Ali' and (one of my very favourites) 'The Pugilist Is 59'. Special mention also for a disquisition on Bob Dylan which included Tom singing a burst of 'Love Is Just A Four Letter Word', followed by the opening line of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' and then shouting 'take that, Shakespeare!'; and for his final encore of a Johnny Cash medley - this is a man of taste.

In what is already shaping up to be a fine year for live music, this is bound to be up there in the best gig list. Well played, Tom and Thad: long may you run.


The Great Escape 2013 - day two

It was definitely Billy Bragg's day, with a strong contender for performance of the year, not just of TGE. In comparison with the other stuff I saw, it's a bit like wondering how the rest got on when Mo Farah turned up for the dads' race at sports day...

It was probably the fifth or sixth time I've seen Billy over the last 25 years or so and the first that he's had a full band available throughout. We still got some solo and stripped-down numbers, but it was good to have the range, texture and oomph that his four collaborators brought to the show. A particular mention for CJ Hillman, swapping between a pedal steel and a Rickenbacker to great effect, but they were all excellent. (It must be a bit tricky playing country music as the 'other Chris Hillman', but CJ doesn't suffer by the comparison.)

And was it country music? Yes, sometimes. So what? Billy got to crack some gags about 'rocking the radical Kenny Rogers look' and tell some stories about pearl snap shirts, but in truth this very English songwriter sits solidly in a transatlantic tradition – as his entirely apt choice for the Mermaid Avenue project, setting previously unrecorded Woody Guthrie lyrics to new music, fully demonstrated. He played 'Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key' from that album, alongside Woody's 'I Ain't Got No Home In This World Anymore.'

On both, and throughout the set, Bragg has never been in better voice – deeper as he gets older, but smoother too and deployed with confidence and range. He still jokes, sipping his herbal tea at the end, that its magical properties make him believe he's singing in tune, but his strong and lived-in larynx is now a definite strength, as its foghorn side has faded somewhat over time.

That's not to say that there's any less fire or righteous anger on show, as diatribes against political cynicism and a powerful reading of 'Ideology' demonstrate. The set ranges freely across the decades and everything he choses – the overtly political and the more personal and emotional, from his current album way back to 'The Milkman Of Human Kindness' from 1983 – fits into a coherent and cohesive whole. Special mentions for a luminous 'Tank Park Salute' (I'm welling up again as I type this...) and a deftly tweaked 'Great Leap Forwards' (the uncle 'who once played for Red Star Belgrade' now says he has 'left your aunt and run off with the postman'), but I loved the whole show. There was the odd grumble on the way out that he hadn't played 'New England' - but, hey, think of what he did play and the strength of that 30 year back catalogue. (He had a nice riposte to shouted requests for more obscure numbers: 'Thank you, madam, but you only have to remember the title...') Thanks, Bill. Five stars.

And, in other news...

I'm kicking myself for getting to the Dome too late to catch more than the last couple of songs from Del Barber, a singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, who has a clear strong voice, accomplished guitar style and confident stage manner – which is not straightforward in a half-empty 2000 seat hall. I'll be looking out for more from him.

I only saw two songs from second support Sean McGowan too, but that was a choice. He has a strong, ranty voice, very reminiscent of a young Billy Bragg, but – for me – none of Bragg's focus or songwriting subtlety. It struck me as ranting to no purpose, I'm afraid.

The pick of the shows I caught earlier in the day was punk duo L'Hereu Escampa from Barcelona. Thunderous drumming and high energy attack, speeding up and slowing down to great effect. The shouted vocals – in Catalan, apparently, but it could have been anything – might get wearing after a while, but for half an hour this was a gripping set. (I think there must be something in the water in that part of Spain that turns out great drummers: L'Hereu are not quite in the same league, but came across rather like a stripped down version of Fergusson, one of my hits of TGE 2012.)

A mention in dispatches for Kinnie the Explorer, who coped well with a disappointingly thin audience at the Brighthelm Centre and built some nicely floating prog-tinged indie from intricate repetitive patterns. They lack a naturally strong vocalist, but there is a lot there to build on.

I was less keen on Alarm Bells, a young Scottish 5-piece, clearly determined to take the world by storm, and ready to deploy the kitchen sink in doing so. Their first number included dry ice, strobes, the singer whirling the mic around on its lead, the guitarist waving his unstrapped instrument about and some siren-like wailing. They built from there. The words 'unholy' and 'racket' came unbidden to my brain and I moved on.


Peter Case in Brighton

The best of Peter Case's songs suck you in to their own little worlds so deftly that you shiver with the final chord, like shaking awake from a dream. You've been there, inside, seeing what he's been seeing...

'Entella Hotel' has a small crowd at Brighton's Latest Bar rapt and, when it's evocation of living the lowlife in San Francisco is over, Case's collaborator tonight, Michael Weston King, speaks for us all:

'That's not just one of my favourite Peter Case songs, it's one of my favourite songs by anyone, ever.'

There are barely thirty people in the room and Case is so good, that's crazy. I shake his hand afterwards and tell him he should be playing to thousands. 'Maybe in another life,' he replies wryly.

He's 58 now and has been making solo albums since his classic self-titled debut in 1986. Prior to that he played in a couple of punky bands the Nerves and the Plimsouls. He's an accomplished guitarist, picking blues licks on an open-tuned acoustic with drive and no little finesse - but it's feel and impact rather than scrupulous technique that he goes for. His voice is distinctive, clear and expressive, with occasional echoes of John Lennon; his look is equally his own - imagine a beatnik Willy Rushton after an all night session...

This is the last night of a short tour with Weston King, a British country singer-songwriter and formerly one of the Good Sons. The set up is like a folkfest workshop: the pair sitting next to each other and trading songs, occasionally joining in to accompany each other. They open with a fine joint reworking of Tom Russell's 'Blue Wing'. Weston King has a decent voice and is friendly and engaging, but Case's songs are in a different league from his and so - like a folkfest workshop - the intensity and energy level in the room tends to fluctuate as the spotlight shifts.

Peter Case likes to tell stories between songs, as well as in them, and we get a long tale of buying in to Bob Dylan's self-mytholigising of running away to hit the road as a child. And, since Case grew up in Buffalo, his route out was Highway 62 - which runs all the way to the Mexican border at El Paso, via the birthplaces of Woody Guthrie and Buddy Holly... Cue a splendid take on Dylan's 'Pledging My Time', re-imagined as country blues.

He's ready to mix in some old songs, like 'Put Down The Gun' (drawn, like 'Entella Hotel', from his second album Blue Guitar*) and even responds to a shouted request for the Plimsouls' 'Oldest Story In The World'. But he is clearly ambivalent about crowd-pleasing: he agonises over a request for 'Old Blue Car' and eventually turns in as an alternative, seemingly-improvised blues which he dubs 'New Old Blue Car'.

He also conveniently forgets my bid for the great 'Two Angels'. When I remind him afterwards he tells me that the song has just been featured in a TV show, providing the soundtrack as two vampires make love 'which, amazingly enough, is exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote the song...'

My partner and I reflect on the way home on the entirely random way that audience size correlates to talent. OK, someone like Case is always likely to be in the cult hero bracket, rather than a household name. That said, the cult really ought to be a little less exclusive. She points out that Peter is just as a good a singer, songwriter and guitarist as, say, Steve Earle, and of a similar vintage. But Steve is capable of drawing an audience in Brighton about a hundred times the size of tonight's. Go figure.

And go and see Peter Case at the very next opportunity: you won't regret it.


*and if you're not yet familiar with his second album's full title, try this for size: The Man With The Blue Postmodern Fragmented Neo-traditionalist Guitar. Yep, that's about it.


Meg Baird and Jason Steel, West Hill Hall

It's great when you go to see an old hero and know all the songs. It's also great to hear fine, new, unfamiliar music - particularly in an intimate setting.

So, 48 hours after Patti Smith wowed a couple of thousand of us at the Brighton Dome, I was one of maybe 50 up the road at the West Hill Community Hall - where my kids went to a toddlers' playgroup, where the stage lighting is provided by two old standard lamps, and where Michael Chapman played an amazing show earlier this year.

And Michael it was who led me to Meg Baird. She has a lovely version of his 'No Song To Sing' on the Oh Michael, Look What You've Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman compilation, which is shaping up to feature strongly in my favourite records of 2012.

And that was all I knew when I bought the tickets, other than that she had played in Espers, an American folk band who have never really grabbed my attention.

What a voice: clear and pure with effortless power, influenced - as I see the critics note and she herself acknowledges - by the sound of the English folk revival (Celia Humphris of Trees, Jacqui McShee, Shirley Collins are in the mix), but with a tone and style which is very much her own. Her largely fingerpicking guitar style is also distinctive and provides a solid and reliable platform for the songs.

She seems very shy. Singing always with her eyes closed, barely moving, taking several numbers before starting to say anything to the audience. But she warms into it and communicates a real charm: flashing delighted smiles at the end of the songs, which she seems surprised to find are greeted with rapturous applause. (I came away clutching a copy of her Seasons On Earth album, the sleeve of which has four photos of her, three of which hide her face entirely and the last has an eyes-closed semi-profile as she smiles at her dog... We like you too, Meg!)

She was supported by Jason Steel, a remarkable guitar and banjo player from Yorkshire, who also writes a mean song and sings with a light, true voice. He is remarkable for the way that he will leave space in his arrangements and allow the pace to drop, trusting the music to proceed according to its own internal logic. It works: spellbindingly.

He tells some funny and affecting stories, and quotes John Fahey - who is one definite reference point for the music, along with old, weird folk (from both sides of the Atlantic) and blues. But I also caught some flashes of early Paul Simon and (as my partner pointed out) Jeff Buckley in his songs. Fahey's advice was always to finish with a hymn and Jason gave us two, including a great reading of 'Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down'.

I came away with a handsome piece of vinyl from him, too - his very nicely packaged The Weight of Care album (numbered 242 of 250 - phew, just made it...). I'm going to enjoy getting to know both of my acquisitions.

A lovely, mellow evening: and the stars seemed particularly bright, walking home.