He’s slip slidin’ away

There are many occasions when the passing of time makes you say “I can’t believe it’s been that long since…”

This ticket doesn’t illustrate one of them, but it does give me the chance to say that I can’t believe it’s been more than 30 years since I first saw Paul Simon.

And in just a few more months I’ll be seeing him again for what is reported as being the very last time as he’s bringing the curtain down on his touring career.

It will include a show in Manchester close to my own home town where he used to play the local folk club and, where legend has it, he penned Homeward Bound while waiting for the milk train to London after one of his Liverpool engagements.

This show (see ticket), I felt, wasn’t one of the best of his I’ve seen. He’s never been the most ebullient of performers and on this occasion I thought it was all a little dialled in.

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But on previous form he had been absolutely magnetic picking choice tunes from a songbook that’s probably the envy of all but a handful of songwriters.

I know it’s cheating to talk about occasions other than this one, but it was a privilege to see the Gracelands tour in 1987 when he brought along a stellar cast that included Hugh Masakela, Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

What was disappointing was that on the occasions he left the stage to his African comrades, half the audience used it as an opportunity to head to the bar or the toilets. Staggering really.

The Summer Pops were a wonderful Liverpool institution when they were in a huge circus tent on the waterfront and brought in acts that were too big to play other venues in the city.

By the time the Arena was built and the Pops moved in for a little while, it was a bit pointless really as bigger acts could play the city as part of their regular touring schedule.

Travelling a dark desert highway

I can’t possibly say I’ve been unaware of Queens of the Stone Age. That would be a lie.

I own a couple of albums. I’ve seen them at a festival. Their existence isn’t a mystery to me.

But sat in the Manchester Arena I looked around and couldn’t see a spare seat anywhere, leading me to think `when did they get this big?’

And the truth is that I’ve not really been paying attention. I read the odd review and interview, hear songs when they come out but otherwise don’t give them too much thought.

And that, my friends, has been a mistake if Sunday night was anything to go by.

I came away from their show with the same opinion I got after seeing Pearl Jam in the same venue – that I could have listened to it all night.

It came over like the soundtrack to a getaway car being driven through the desert night in a cult 70s heist film.

A hint of menace powered by four-star gasoline starring, obviously, Josh Homme as gang leader and driver.

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And while he supplies the swagger, his gang of Stone Agers provide the propulsion.

In keeping with the band’s aesthetic the stage setting was lean and spare and, bar a drum solo, they barely wasted a note.

I like the fact that while you would definitely file it under `rock’ there’s a weariness and a yearning undertone to some of the material helped by Homme’s distinctive vocals and their use of keyboards to underpin some of the riffage.

A great night only marginally spoiled by the Arena charging £12.50 to park. I don’t normally go in their car park because of the time it takes to get out, but options for street parking and in nearby business premises are becoming rarer.

£12.50! I was upset when it first cost that much to see a band (Japan as it happens). Now it’s that to park. What is the world coming to?

 

Super Human

There’s a fine line between epic and overblown.

Remember when the Lord of the Rings films first came out and you thought `Wow!’ and then the extended versions arrived and you just thought `Boring’?

That’s how easy it is to overstep the mark.

This show, however, was epic in the good way. In scale, in power, in volume and in excitement – it was pushing all the meters into red.

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But it never tipped over.

The Killers don’t pad their set or individual songs with lengthy jams or pointless solos. They don’t wander through the backwaters of their catalogue. They just pull the pin out of the grenade and blow up.

Now if you’ve heard their last couple of recorded offerings you might be forgiven for thinking that this isn’t the same band you’ve been listening to you – and you’d be right.

They share a similar career path to Oasis in that they started off with a bang, got bigger, and then began to record less and less satisfying albums with a couple of great tunes that work really well live.

But if the albums are occasionally inspid, the live show is anything but.

Of course it helps when your choice of set closer is between three songs that virtually every other band out there would give their right arm for.

They finished the main set with the double whammy of All These Things That I’ve Done followed by When You Were Young.

The encores closed with Human and Mr Brightside which they began as a pulsing dance track in a segue from the previous song and then kicked in with the familiar riff that has lit up a million indie nights, weddings and birthday parties over the last decade.

Earlier they included a cover of Black’s Wonderful Life with Brandon accompanied only by their touring guitarist Ted Sablay. Sablay’s addition, together with bassist Jake Blanton as replacement Killers for long-time members Dave Keuning and Mark Steurmer – who were sitting the tour out – made little discernible difference to the overall package..

Songs off the new album were much punchier with The Man a real standout, and the old favourites like Smile Like You Mean It were all present, correct and shinily vibrant.

As an arena show this was hard to fault. Luckily there won’t be a Director’s Cut.

Leaders in their own Field

It’s always great discovering new bands and artists but usually, when it comes down to it, if asked to name your favourites you go back to those things you’ve always held dear.

I know very little has even come close to penetrating my own virtual closed shop of acts since about 1989.

Of course there are bands I’ve really liked since then. The Mondays, Oasis, The Beastie Boys and Nirvana would all comfortably get into a top 20 for instance but they’re not displacing Prince, the Bunnymen, The Smiths, The Clash and Sly & the Family Stone in the all-time top five.

Bubbling just under but still in the top ten would be The Stone Roses, Public Enemy, The Beatles and The Jam, with the last place a musical heavyweight contest over 12 rounds between Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson.

The Roses, to be fair, are just clinging on and it’s entirely based on what they did in one two-year spell.

Now I can’t say quite the same about my top ten singles which have always been more of a moveable feast – although Kiss, Tears of a Clown, The Last Time and the double A-side of Fools Gold/What The World is Waiting For are always inked in. The other six spots are regularly up for grabs.

Now all of this preamble has a point.

And it’s this.

The more I hear and see Field Music, the more I think they’re moving up both charts. In their own unassuming, understated and undemonstrative fashion they are a climber in the way that songs and acts used to rise up the top 40.

Last Saturday I saw them again at The People’s Concert at Manchester’s Albert Hall and I thought they were up two places to this week’s number 16.

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Despite a 10-minute delay to replace a broken snare mid-set they were sheer quality. Of course, opinions vary and Gill, who was with me, declared them `not all that’ and preferred Dutch Uncles who were on the bill immediately before them.

Where I thought they scored over Dutch Uncles was in the memorable tune stakes. The Uncles were eminently watchable and listenable but it all sounded like really good album tracks when what usually makes a difference is a song or two you can’t stop singing, humming or whistling.

In The Noisy Days are Over, Field Music have just such a song and it threatens to become a my top ten mainstay*, plus there are others that, while not in that exalted company, you can hold close to your heart.

They have that simplicity and assurance that marks out anyone who is any good at anything. Footballers with time on the ball, cricketers with an uncomplicated technique and bands who make clever songwriting sound ridiculously easy when, obviously, it’s the complete opposite.

It’s fair to say that they occupy the space of current favourite band and, in the unlikely event of new and/or meaningful releases from much of the top 20, they’re likely to hold that position for a while.

*This morning the all-time top ten was:

Kiss

Tears of a Clown

Paperback Writer

Fools Gold/What the World is Waiting For

The Last Time

Totally Wired

The Noisy Days are Over

Everyday People

Upside Down (the Diana Ross song, not the Jesus and Mary Chain one)

This Charming Man

 

 

 

Wishing every day was like Sundae

The proliferation of festivals has meant, unfortunately, that some have bitten the dust over the years, and I was particularly saddened when Leicester’s Summer Sundae succumbed to financial pressures.

It was a 6,000-capacity boutique festival held in the gardens of De Montfort Hall pretty much in the centre of the city.

And, for a couple of years, Gill and I found it to be amongst the most enjoyable festival experiences out there.

The headlining names were decent, the undercards were solid, the walking around was kept to a minimum and you could stick your car about 50 yards from the entrance and pay a couple of quid for on-street parking.

Even better, before entering the site there was always time to call in at Bombay Bites – possibly the finest Indian takeaway in the world.

in 2010 we decided to get two-day tickets rather than go for the full weekend and with Mumford & Sons headling on the Sunday that now seems a remarkably good decision in hindsight.

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Instead we managed to watch a tremendous variety of bands including a marvellous headling duo of Seasick Steve and Teenage Fanclub on the Friday and then an afternoon of Turin Brakes, Stornoway and The Go! Team on the main stage on the Saturday followed by a typically obtuse set from The Fall indoors in the hall itself.

While his band barrelled through some sturdy tunes, Mark E Smith seemed to spend most of the show stood behind the speaker stack or with his back to the audience. He probably sacked the band later that night.

But they, like the festival, were good while they lasted.

 

Right there, Right then

I have had a good run at Creamfields, missing only two since it moved from Liverpool to leafy Daresbury.

Even its return to being purely dance as opposed to a combination of bands and dance, and one year straying into indie and dance – Kasabian headlining! – hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm.

In truth I see enough bands so its all-DJ line-up is actually a bonus.

But this year will probably have been my last.

Not because it was any less enjoyable. I had the usual good laugh with friends Matt, Paul and this year, Dean, but – and see the previous post for details – there comes a time when you recognise that you’re pushing the boundaries of good taste just by being there.

The age profile is nowhere near as young as Leeds but it’s still some way south of my middle-aged years.

At least I had the age thing in common with Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, who was the main reason I rocked up this year because despite him being on a million festival bills I’ve been at over the year (excuse the exaggeration)  I’ve never watched him.

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And his was a solid, crowd-pleasing set with great visuals that set us up nicely for the rest of the evening – some of which was spent in the excellent re-creation of Cream’s spiritual home at Nation.

Then it was more gigantic stage action with Tiesto who was a little underwhelming compared to previous visits. I thought his set lacked flow, almost as if he was testing out a few ideas. It had its moments and a few old school memories, plus the amazing production values that always go down well, but I’d rate the previous two occasions much higher.

However fortified by beer and thousands of others also having a top time it was only later that I could make a proper comparison.

Now what will I do next August Bank Holiday?

 

No, not that Bugsy Malone

Obviously there comes a time when you’re not as relevant as you think you are.

I realised some time ago that the majority of stuff that fills the chart these days wasn’t for me and that the overwhelming dominance of r&b and its derivatives had essentially pushed me to the margins of what would be considered pop culture.

And by far the biggest demonstration of this marginalised status came when taking my nephew, Noel, to his first festival this year at Leeds where a large chunk of one day was given over to Grime and rap

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Now I’m not so much out of touch that I don’t know what Grime is and I know – and like -some of its biggest stars. But we would be seeing people who hadn’t yet made that crossover into the mainstream.

So on that basis I found myself spending long periods in the Radio 1Xtra tent where the likes of Young T & Bugzey, Mostack, Dave and Bugzy Malone would be on stage.

I can honestly say that I didn’t know a single tune played all day. Not by the acts and not by the between acts DJ. Yet pretty much everyone else in there sang every word.

The performances varied in quality with the latter two certainly justifying their slots at the top of the bill and you can see that they could easily be the next superstars to follow Skepta and Stormzy into the wider consciousness.

J Hus was a disappointment on the same stage despite his fairly lofty status as someone taking Grime in a new direction with a set that seemed tired and uninspired.

When we did venture out into the sunshine we saw another of the genre’s biggest names – Giggs – on the enormous main stage and it was hugely entertaining to see both sides of the festival merging at this point.

As we approached the stage I said it looked like we were in a different festival. Lots of people who looked more like me, probably there for Liam Gallagher and Muse later on.

Then, as we sat and waited, there was this enormous influx of Giggs’ young fanbase who turned and left as soon as he was finished and headed back to where the Dance and 1Xtra stages could be found and the main stage dinosaurs were left to the old people.

Anyway, Noel loved the whole thing and is already counting down until next year’s line-up is announced and planning to camp once he turns 16.

If we’re at the same event, I doubt we’ll be watching the same things.

Paradox? Don’t you clean toilets with that?

Alarmingly, I haven’t yet got round to putting a Bunnymen post on this site.

I say alarmingly because Echo and the Bunnymen are the band I have seen the most – some 26 times in total.

I have seen them in fields, in tents, in clubs, at the home of Shakesperean theatre and in the Grade I listed neoclassical splendour of St George’s Hall.

I can only find the one ticket though so bear with me. It won’t all be about the one gig.

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When I started my first job, the Bunnymen gave me an `in’ with a couple of the other staff as they were talking about having seen them at the Royal Court a few weeks earlier.

Having been at the same show I could confidently join in the conversation and set my stall out as a fellow lover of that slightly doomy, long overcoat-wearing turn of the Eighties scene.

I remember wearing a long overcoat to one of their gigs. In the standing section of the Royal Court this wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had.

There’s a much longer essay to be written on the Bunnymen’s failure to become the biggest band in the world and I saw them on about 15 of those 26 occasions with the fervent belief and hope that’s what they would become.

Latterly, with just Will and Mac as the remaining members from the classic four-piece line-up, I’m content to see them run through their impressive highlights.

I never thought it possible that I would like someone more than The Smiths, but I play the Bunnymen’s records far more these days and Heaven Up Here would be in the Desert Island Top Ten albums.

I watch the YouTube clips of them at the Albert Hall in 1983 and marvel at what an amazing band they were and I was fortunate enough to be at the same venue when they did an anniversary show for Ocean Rain a couple of decades later.

I welled up when, during the title track, Mac dedicated the song to drummer Pete de Freitas who was killed in a motorcycle accident some 20 years earlier, and with the songs given the full orchestral string backing they sounded as good as ever.

There isn’t one show above all that sticks out. More moments from many of them.

In the rain at Glastonbury, at the end of the wonderfully silly Crystal Day that involved bike rides and tea at the Adelphi, standing next to magazine big cheese Mark Ellen in a tent at Cornbury, the comeback at Cream – they were all magnificent.

 

 

 

And he did the song about Tony Danza

I once wrote a joke headline about Prince playing Widnes Labour Club to illustrate something highly improbable.

Then Elton John announced he would be coming to town and playing at the home of Widnes Vikings and suddenly that headline didn’t seem that funny.

Elton, with his Vegas residency and 300 million worldwide record sales, would surely not be pitching up in Lowerhouse Lane.

Not THE Elton John. Has to be a tribute act.

And yet, at exactly 7pm on Sunday June 18th, there he was. Emerging into the sunshine from the side of the stage in a long sparkly jacket to a rapturous ovation and launching into a beefy version of The Bitch is Back.

I was moved to comment that it was the weirdest thing I’d ever seen.

After a couple of songs he greeted the crowd with the words `Good evening Widnes’ and the weirdest thing I’d ever seen title had lasted for just eight minutes. We had a new winner.

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Twenty-four hours after watching Guns n Roses tear it up at the London Stadium I was near enough in my own back yard watching someone who could scoff at the 100 million units they’ve shifted and point to seven number one albums in the US in one incredible three-year period, Tony, Grammy and Academy Awards and just about every other honour the music world can bestow.

And he was really good.

Not in a life-changing, blowing the roof off (metaphorically speaking as the Select Security Stadium has no roof) OMG what have I just seen kind of way. But in a professional, honed, perfectly judged, hit-laden kind of way.

He delivered sincere tributes to George Michael and those killed in the terrible incidents that had shaken London and Manchester, and also to the thousands who were in attendance.

Elton’s songs are the part of the the very fabric of the 70s and 80s and he treated us to a fair selection. Your Song, Rocket Man, Philadelphia Freedom, Daniel, Tiny Dancer, Sad Songs, I’m Still Standing – the list just grew and grew.

He ended with a solo version of Candle in the Wind, the crowd swayed and then he was gone.

But he’d really been there…hadn’t he?

W.Axl on, W.Axl off

You can go to plenty of gigs and come away thinking you’ve had a good night, enjoyed the band and that’s it.

But every so often you see something that you know is out of the ordinary; that raises the hairs on the back of your neck and gives you the feeling that you really were in the presence of something special.

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Watching Guns n’ Roses at the Olympic Park I felt exactly that. But I also felt a massive pang of regret.

The show was epic, of course, and anyone with half an ear for music cannot fail to be moved by the opening bars of some of their classic tunes.

But the regret came from seeing them now. And not in 1988.

This is the closest approximation to the classic line-up I guess anyone will see nowadays, but to have seen them at the time of Appetite for Destruction must have been truly extraordinary.

When they were still untouched by the baggage that comes with being the world’s biggest rock band and they had one of the greatest hard rock albums ever recorded in their back pocket.

Not being able to compare the two I can’t really say that this show was diminished in any way. It was a two-and-three-quarter hour demonstration of what a stellar rock band can do.

There were no phoney showbiz moments, no lengthy call and response passages to fill time, just massive anthems, perfectly chosen covers – including The Damned’s New Rose which they included on their Spaghetti Incident album and Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun as a tribute to the recently departed Chris Cornell – and a boatload of energy.

Sure Axl disappeared occasionally to change into another big hat and possibly get a slug of oxygen and there wasn’t huge amount of interaction between the three principals to suggest they are now getting on like a house on fire but it didn’t look or sound like a cynical money-making exercise.

And when they kicked in to Welcome to the Jungle and Axl did his trademark side-to-side shuffle for the first time it was worth every penny.

And, just as an in joke, now literally everybody in the Western world knows the intro to Sweet Child O’ Mine.