Onward for our second day at the Liverpool International Pop Overthrow Festival 2011 (and the fourth actual day of the festival itself) and things begin to heat up as we invade the weekend space with more choice acts in one day than you could shake a ridiculously large stick at.
We saw around 15 acts today, 2 of them twice and one we've omitted as some weeks on we've forgotten what they were like and failed to make any notes at the time. Oops...
We will combine reviews where we saw an artist more than once and indicate thus: (x2 ) - but we'll comment as though it were one performance, with some deviations, naturally.
We can heartily recommend Garcia's Restaurant on Victoria Street for a great breakfast and a good start to the day.
Cardinal Jack – Things began much earlier than the previous day with a post brunch stroll into the Cavern Pub and a chance to have a look at a bunch of young upstarts from London who regale under the collective moniker: 'Cardinal Jack'. Whether this non de plume is due in part to some veiled repressed Catholic upbringing is never disclosed. This didn't prevent our enjoyment of the music however. One is first struck by their youthful energy and mettle, but more than that, and uncompromising sound which all at once both repels and endears you to their message of 'bang, bang, shout, fall over' (their words).
Their angular, stop/start motion, rhythmical song construction is often a front for attractive melody lines which waft in and out of consciousness and particularly come together on songs like 'Green Eyed Boy'. Even more so is the hit laying in wait, the insistent 'Moving' which is particularly enticing. Think frantic early new wave, with nods to Pere Ubu, Talking Heads, XTC and the Kaiser Chiefs and you're part way there, yet their own slant sets them apart from any convenient reference point I can summon your way.
It's worth mentioning that this band also sported the most impressive collection of guitar effects pedals I've ever seen, hence the accompanying snap says as much about them as any traditional representation might.
Cardinal Jack's debut album is imminent which you can pre-order from their website (address below) but catch them live too, for the complete experience.
Charge of The Light Brigade – impressive name from these Canadian colonials who conjured visions of David Hemmings in Tony Richardson's 1968 film of the same name, all epic swashbuckling, psyche moustache and red tunic a flowing. In many ways you could level the same Charge (groan) at the the interesting musical furrow they have chosen to broadcast to an unsuspecting world.
Unfortunately stripped down to a mere two piece (Vocals, Guitar and Bass) I couldn't help thinking we were being robbed of the full experience that their multifaceted songs demanded. There are plenty of musical twists and turns, and lyrical recounts of fatalistic and predetermined desperate relationships, to keep the observer keen and interested, but in some ways this was way too demanding of their slightly relaxed and mixed lunchtime audience.
Yet, trying to interpret the basic presented sketch and imagine the full canvas, the attentive listener would be able to fill in some of the blanks.
Crying out for a drummer and more punctuation, but the best songs did manage to shine through, particularly the choppy/then smooth and most immediate: 'Young Love' but also:'Last Door Down' and closer 'Desdemona' (not the Marc Bolan song)
The band also chose a cool cover with a version of Springsteen's 'Atlantic City'. Although not a particular 'Boss' fan, Debbie enjoyed this reference to her home state and memories of her Mom, who loved the allure of the New Jersey playground.
We look forward to see COTLB in full regalia in the near future.
The Spanish band The Seasongs were up next who we'd seen before but with a slightly different line-up. They cut quite a dash with tall guy Oscar Granero, all flailing arms, white Fender and chirpy tenor, augmented by his more regular sized compatriots, the rhythm section . There's a kind of ragged garagey quality to the trio's mix of psyche and angry punk, all fed through the Madridian metropolis.
Things are generally thrifty and sharp. For example, not outstaying it's welcome at all was 'Your Fun Is Coming To An End' which starts out like classic 1966 Who but has a gritty New Wave vibe which grabs the ear but is all over in about 2 minutes flat.
Changing the mood, the Gaelic lilt of 'She Was a One Eyed Girl' touches so many bases – we detected Bowie and Suede in the verses, set-off against the folky infectious “la-la-la” refrain.
We didn't nab the name of band's last song, but amid the air of fuzzy, squealing feedback came some nasty-but-nice tearing runs from Granero to bring the performance to a frenetic conclusion.
All the way from Amsterdam, The Kik appear before you like the world simply froze in 1965. They light up the stage with cheeky chappy persona, infectious broken English quips and self effacing charm. Guitarist and lead vocalist Dave Von Raven wins over the assembled throng quickly, they seem utterly charmed by his personalty as much as the music that underpins it.
Like a slightly more dangerous Gerry & The Pacemakers they tell us 'It's Gonna Be Alright' and Ladies & Gentlemen – that turns out to be the case, with bells on!
They soon carry on with their new single 'My Eyes Are Still Dry' with it's totally seductive Hollies recalling chorus, it's an absolute winner!
Although they have their feet firmly planted in 60's Beat territory, and if that's your thing you will surely love it, yet there's a modern freshness which makes their sound and presentation as fresh as a proverbial daisy!
The Jooles – are vivacious, young and groovy, like The Archies cartoon come to life. Even their names make you think you're flicking through the pages of a teen mag from pop's golden age – meet: Daria, Alex, Chris, Katha & Richie.
Charismatic, blonde, attractive vocalist Daria oozes a naive chutzpah which nimbly connects with every member of the audience, as she continually gestures and eyeballs everyone in turn – yeah she's talking to me, or maybe it's you – no but really it's me.
Visually striking they make you sit up and take notice but with the sound they make too. Kicking off impressively with wah-wah chuka guitar and fizzy hi-hats ala 'Theme from Shaft' you just know this is gonna be a groovy roller coaster ride – and it is!
Often funky, sure and connected, with a hint of cheesy exotica, they put everything into their performance and their half hour on stage goes by in a convivial whoosh.
Jooles are nothing but fun with no hint of the solemnity of life – a benign yet innocent wet dream for both sexes delivered straight from their home in Berlin - to your door.
Night Parade – What is it about Night Parade that is so engaging? Well as one person said to me as the final chords of 'Demons' were fading away “It's The Voice”. Indeed she had hit the nail squarely on the head. Singer and songwriter Rob Vincent possesses that rare gift - a most unique and unusual singing voice – a sound that makes everyone who hears it, just stop whatever they are doing and want to listen – it's like we're all in trance – as if it was magic!
I'm not usually given to such flights of fancy or audacious claims – but “It's The Voice” basically says it all. Well that and the strength of the material.
No disrespect to the rest of Vincent's band, and this probably pisses them off no end, although they are the perfect support for his songs; without him they would be just another band from Liverpool, and they probably know it.
Having said all that, put Vincent with an orchestra or bunch of session players and you would most certainly lose something. Like when the late, great Gerry Rafferty entered his most successful but MOR bland period, it's so easy to ruin a good thing with an unsympathetic setting. So Night Parade as a collective should hang on to that Je ne sais quoi they own and don't mess with formula.
I first saw Rob Vincent last year when the band were a surprise addition to the Saturday IPO line up; I was mesmerised admittedly, but couldn't shake the image of Greek songbird Nana Mouskouri from my mind! Although Rob sounds nothing like the cosy 60's folk warbler – something about his signature horn-rims and perceptible tremolo conjured this image from my childhood watching the said superstar on my Gran's TV when we visited her and my Grandfather in sunny Hastings-by-the-Sea.
I think the band opened with wonderfully titled '50 Stone Lover' which has quite a lot of instrumental interplay, only the keyboard was missing from this live version. They continue on through 'Havoc' a superb piece which alternates half paced verses with a massive driving chorus as the song progresses to conclusion.
In between songs Vincent tells us nothing about their content or inspiration, most of which have single word titles. There's a hint of anthem in their panoramic demeanour as each tumbles forth like wrath or anger from some higher source. Particularly evident in the aforementioned 'Havoc' - it's exciting building repetition “I'm gonna wreak...” is a case in point.
Normally I don't go for a bundle of anthemic songscapes, but can forgive him somewhat as the strength of his songwriting and honest delivery is truly beguiling, the epic stamp seems not to offend not a jot.
Rob announces before they go, that should you want to find out more about Night Parade, that they can be found in all the usual places: MySpace, YourSpace, HisSpace, TheirSpace, FaceSpace etc.
The group finished with 'Demons', one of Vincent's strongest songs, leaving the audience somewhat spellbound and wanting more. We definitely hope to see them sooner, rather than wait another year.
Mr & Mrs Qwerty are indebted to Margi, superfan of the band, who introduced us to them last year and runs a website in celebration and to promote the combo at www.lovenightparade.co.uk
Honeybug – One of the greatest highlights of the IPO around two years ago was seeing the magnificent Honeybug for the first time in all their glory – a 7 piece featuring guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, a 3 piece vocal trio, and at the helm: Nigel Frayling Kelly, a tour de force, piano playing, lead singer / composer / arranger throwing out one gleaming piece of lightly buttered soul infused soft rock song, after another.
This time Nigel was showcasing the stripped down economy sized edition of just himself and two of the three-piece backing vocalists. This was fine, I imagine they all fit compactly into one 4x4 with room to spare, rather than the articulated lorry required for the full 7 headed Monty.
Nonetheless, maybe this time they could have done with the heavy artillery as not only was the Cavern Pub packed to bursting at around 7.15pm, but there were a few folk in from the Loud Obnoxious Crew too, giving it plenty of heckle and vocal intrusion. Debbie and I were late so we didn't experience the full brunt of the broadside, but needless to say one thing a soft rock 3-piece with piano and harmony vocals don't require is input from the loud of gob and soft of brain.
By the time we got there it had mostly died down but was still extremely packed and pretty sweaty. There was standing room only and we weren't even able to get a clear picture of the stage, which is why we are indebted to Alan of Cavern Photos for the use of his picture (incidentally from a different show).
The thing we were struck by this time hearing Honeybug in this more transparent form, was not the excellent bob-on harmonies, of which were uniformly super-trouper, but how much Nigel sounds like a combination of Stevie Wonder and Neil Sedaka (particularly in his 10cc days). Only being able to hear and virtually not see the performance I was able to pinpoint the examples (in the links above) which most illustrate this realisation.
This is high praise indeed as previously I was more aware of the great soft rock parallels in arrangements, overall sound and larger ensemble effect which pointed towards Curt Boettcher, Sagittarius, Millennium, California, Association, Harpers Bizarre, Merry-Go-Around, Turtles etc.
All this is still apparent, but the aforementioned lead vocal parallels were a new facet, previously unrevealed.
But what of Honeybug themselves, after nothing more than the paired down Naked Songs EP release in two years, the next 12 months promises a heavy release schedule of all manner of goodies from all corners of the ensemble big and small. Debbie and I for one (or is that two?) cannot wait!
The Suns - have at times a gentle wide-open-space west coast sound, not a million miles away from some of the Pub and Prog bands of the 70's. This is nicely demonstrated by the closing number 'Soul Desert'.
We particularly dug 'The New Normal' the title song from their latest album - it's a great melody with an expansive feel and nice memorable hook. Particularly with the feel, it reminds me of something else, maybe The Jam or The Teardrop Explodes, I just can't put my finger on it, so maybe its all theirs, as the references elude me – anyway I'm still singing it now some weeks on, for which they should be justly elated – I know I am!
Although the band are good, we were later disappointed to learn that having seen the band during an earlier slot, we missed their fuller and perhaps greater performance when they were to be joined by new lead guitarist Carl Phythain. For this reason we hope we get the chance to see them again next time at IPO or somewhere else on tour with this new line-up.
The Breakdowns – meet: Joe, Matt, Adam & Owen Breakdown from downtown Nottingham, but their hearts and minds reach right across the Atlantic to the classic New York of the Dolls, the Ramones and any other kind of trashy pop bubblegum references you can think of, but most of all they put me in mind of Boston's own sublime Real Kids. Like The Jooles earlier these guys yearn to be two dimensional in a 3D world – hooray for cartoon pop!
We had almost forgotten we'd seen The Breakdowns once before at the IPO in 2007 when I guess they were still wet behind the ears, so it was an unexpected surprise to see them some four years on still chasing the trash aesthetic, but hitting the target pretty much every time.
Not since the 70's have a British band so embraced the sound of young America, and even then it was very much the West Coast sound, whereas the Breakdowns definitely take their lead from the East Coast and from the end of that decade.
Joe Breakdown certainly looks the part, all renegade rock'n'roll threads, low slung guitar and wasted physique.
They may resemble an Anglicised Johnny Thunders Heartbreakers but 'Don't Write Another Love Song' has more than a passing resemblance to the other Heartbreakers – Tom Petty's band' and their 'Anything That's Rock and Roll's Fine' with perhaps a nod to Green Day's Warning' itself a cop from the Kinks 'Picture Book'- all good points of reference though.
Affectionately known as Los Breakdowns (their new album is on Spanish Label Rock Indiana ) the band unashamedly wear their influences on their collective sleeves: 'Summertime Twist' is Ramones via trashy Beach Boys, whereas 'Roll Over Record Fair Blue' is a clear homage to grandaddy of them all Chuck Berry.
Completely unpretentious, the band carry no extraneous fat. Like the Ramones there are no guitar solos, no unnecessary drum fills or rippling runs from the guitar or bass. Save the odd blast of bluesy harmonica, there's no dressing, the Breakdowns are as lean as their leader Joe's gangly frame and as mean as his biker bandanna and trilby hat!
A note to the combo before we close, a cover of the Real Kids 'Common At Noon' would suit them like made to measure glove, please indulge me!
Nigel Thomas (x2) from The Foxes was appearing solo as the band's drummer had sustained an injury which prevented him from being able to drum. Rather than cancel, Nigel hopped on a train and landed with guitar in hand ready to deliver his solo variation on the Foxes catalogue.
Nigel was one of the few artists we got to see twice. This can often happen with simultaneous events and the multiple appearance programme of the IPO at Liverpool.
As a consumer this can be a fine balancing act, choosing acts you definitely want to see at least once, avoiding a few you might prefer not to see at all (generally there are very few in this category) and catching the odd one a second time, either by accident or design. Things fell reasonably well into place this particular Friday allowing us a second chance to see the Foxes front man.
We arrived only knowing a smattering of Foxes songs, but it was clear that many of the elements present in the material transferred well to Nigel's sole presentation of the same. We did miss the harmonies and some of the subtle light and shade that make the experience rather sweeter, but the heartfelt honesty, cards-on-the-table intimate soul searching and lyrical pieces on offer connected very well with the audience in the small familiar club environment.
In recognition of the venue, rather than do a Beatles cover, Nigel chose to perform a song the Fab Four themselves had covered in the shape of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' 'You Really Got A Hold On Me'. Although his version was adequate, I felt it was an ill choice. Not only do the lyrics sound quaintly old fashioned in 2011, but the original song contains lots of musical space and vocal interaction from the Miracles, leaving Nigel's version sounding oddly empty and bereft.
By the time he got to his second set, he dropped the Miracles tune and replaced it with the Hard Days Night Song: 'Things We Said Today'. This was far more successful, even bringing one particular fan to her feet, who proceeded to dance around the floorspace much to the onlookers delight.
Performing with just vocals and acoustic guitar in a chiefly electric band environment is a tough call, yet it was visibly apparent that Nigel's clear, thoughtful and touching songs with the personality to match, easily moved his audience, both the tourists and the IPO faithful alike.
David Reid – You wait for two front men with acoustic guitars who carelessly lose their drummers, then two come along at once . And so it was with David Reid, normally front of house, lead vocalist and songwriter with superb Peterborough combo The Contrast was also appearing solo, having lost his drummer to temporary but debilitating illness.
Ever the trooper, Reid turned up all black except for a fetching white sport jacket and only a nylon classical string guitar for companion. What was he going to do with this I wondered, not having seen a nylon string guitar in a rock context since the heady days of the 70's band Audience when the charismatic Howard Werth thrashed a similar instrument within an inch of its life with his deft finger-work?
Fans of The Contrast who've enjoyed their regular spirited and energetic sets may have arrived and been disappointed to find only David Reid alone on stage. Yet they needn't have taken umbrage, as those of us who enjoy his unusual voice and alternative view of the world, would have delighted in his interesting take on familiar Contrast songs.
Beginning with Underground Ghosts (from The Contrast's last album God of Malfunction) Reid delivers this and next song Pocketful of Fear as if they were fragile children being unleashed into an uncomfortable universe.
Much more restrained than the usual frenetic Contrast submissions, each song is accompanied by Reid's faintly picked nylon strings but are immediately recognisable, even in this alien form.
Debbie experiences a particular poignant moment when David introduces his next song, a cover of Jimmy Webb's 'Wichita Lineman'. Most people will recognise this as one of Glen Campbell's crowning moments. In David Reid's hands it takes on quite a different interpretation, but gives Debbie a lump in her throat as it was one of her late Father's favourite songs.
David trawls further back through some more from the Contrast back catalogue before finishing with a final cover of David Bowie's 'Heroes', a song that sits very well with Reid's special kind of delivery.
Although I don't think he does this kind of thing very often, for fans, it was fascinating to see the singer/guitarist out of his normal comfort zone, thrust into an unfamiliar environment delivering his music in this bare and intimate way. Based on the tunes strong melodic content and the uniqueness of his voice, the material transcended the stripped down presentation to reveal something intangible – a new shade of Contrast.
The Dirty Royals – from Oxford, were punchy, lively and upfront. Their witty and intelligent in-between song patter was a breath of fresh air – we were most amused.
Apparently the line-up was one guitarist missing, as always, what you don't know, you don't miss, so for us leader Simon Williams carried both the evening and all the extra guitar solos just absolutely fine – Simon we didn't notice!
Their dry humour pervades even through the song titles, surely a band can't take themselves too seriously with titles referencing already established evergreens such as 'I'm in Love' (Beatles) 'Respect' (Aretha, Erasure) and even 'There's a Riot Going On' (Sly & The Family Stone). So their collective tongue is firmly planted in their collective cheeks.
Has there already been a song called 'Josephine'? I expect so, but it didn't stop our appreciation of the same. With lovely nur-nur opening riff and “put 'em up” refrain it's a great little memorable tune which stays with you long after catching for the first time.
It's difficult to succinctly sum up their music style in a nutshell, suffice to say it has most of the ingredients that will enthuse your average powerpop fan, so we say thank you to the Dirty Royals.
Although a Friday we made it an early night in preparation for traditionally the big day, tomorrow. In so doing we missed a band I'd wanted to see for many years, but rain checked once again regrettably, the Sparkle*Jets UK.
For Your Further Endeavour:
Breakdowns - www.myspace.com/thebreakdownsband
Cardinal Jack - www.myspace.com/cardinaljack
Charge of The Light Brigade - www.myspace.com/chargeband
Contrast - www.myspace.com/thecontrasttheband
Dirty Royals - www.myspace.com/dirtyroyals
Foxes - www.myspace.com/thefoxesband
Honeybug - www.myspace.com/honeybug
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