The Monkey Takes A Punt
Us residents of Ocelotshire area lucky bunch, as well as all the big music festivals we have on our doorsteps (Reading, Truck, End OF The Road etc) we also are able to enjoy a proliferation of smaller, DIY festivals that exhibit just how strong music is round these parts. One of the longest established of these (and a major influence on other festivals like The Shuffle in Swindon) is The Punt. Dating back to 1997 The Punt started life as part of the build up to Oxford Radio 1 Sound City (remember those?) and to this day successfully carries on its aim to showcase the best new and unsigned acts in Oxford. A look at some of the bands that have had early exposure from The Punt reminds you of the quality of music in the City, with Stornoway, Young Knives and Foals, as well as the likes of The Original Rabbit Foot Spasm Band, Spring Offensive and a multitude of popular and cult Oxfordshire band having played on its always strong bills.
This year sees 20 acts playing across 5 venues in Oxford city centre on ONE night – Wednesday 14th May, a thought that exhausts me, but a challenge I will be accepting. A couple of the venues are free to get into (Turl Street Kitchen and the White Rabbit) with the others (The Purple Turtle, the Cellar and the Wheatsheaf) just a miserly fiver. But there are 100 all-venue Punt passes on sale for just £8, from Truck Store on Cowley Road or online from Oxfordmusic.net – which I reckon could prove to be the best £8 you will spend this year.
The line-up is brilliantly diverse ranging from pop to hardcore, via acoustic folk, hip-hop, punk and all ports in between (something for everyone then), so get yourself out and about to check out what you can. We will be there and are already getting particularly excited at the thought of the slinky electro blues of Vienna Ditto, the blissful trip-pop of Flights Of Helios, the lo-fi indie-fuzz of Beta Blocker & The Bodyclock and the haunting melodies of Julia Meijer. Although, looking at the schedule I think we may need a time machine, if expenses will cover one…..
Black Hats lead local band take-over
Last month I wrote about the struggles to get new original music heard within the local area, highlighting the reluctance of venues and promoters to take a risk, talent spot and look to the future. But, I also pointed out that there are exceptions to this. And this month I went and checked out one of those, taking a trip to the O2 Academy in Oxford for the latest BBC Introducing presents night of local music, a 5 band spectacular headlined by one of our favourite bands, Black Hats.
The room was already half full for openers Talk In Code. Taking a few songs to get warmed up, their synth heavy stadium –indie finally hit its stride halfway through the set with frontman Chris Stevens manfully dragging the crowd along with them. With a bit more originality and oomph these guys could be good.
The Shapes, when viewed against the rest of the bill, were an odd choice on paper. But, they didn’t seem bothered, and by the time their bouncing set of folk, pop, ska and soul influenced tunes had finished neither was I. Their joy at playing was infectious, and despite a couple of dodgy vocal harmonies and comedy technical issues the ever growing audience lapped it up.
Anyone who has a passing interest in blue-collar, rootsy American punk rock like Gaslight Anthem needs to check out Late Night Lights. My notes simply stated “punk rock n roll, big sound, razor-blade vocals, tight songs, great band”. And to be honest, I can’t really say much more. I will be checking them out again I am sure.
Invisible Vegas had some friends in the crowd, judging by the rousing reception. And fully deserved it was too, as they played a tight, focused set of indie-rock music that was high on originality and full of interesting melodies. Another one to add to the Gig-Monkey watch-list I feel.
Top dogs Black Hats arrived to a wall of noise and typically of them proceeded to blow socks off with their usual precision attack. They simply get down to business and play great pop songs as best they can without over-complicating matters. And it was a pure joy to see them on the big stage they deserve and sounding great. The new songs they chucked in midway from upcoming EP “are you nervous yet” slotted in seamlessly. But the real treats were classic sing-alongs like Just Fall, Kick in the Doors and the rousing encore of We Write Things Down. Frankly, it was something of a mega performance. And it was very weird seeing them up so high! Let’s hope this belter of a gig is the spur the band need to push onwards, as everyone should have a copy of these songs in their collection.
Overall, the atmosphere was killer, the place packed out and full of dancing, hugging, happy people enjoying new, original and local music like they would at any gig for a major band. So I reckon it perfectly shows how local original music CAN work if you keep plugging away at it, something which we will continue to do so at The Ocelot.
National Up-And-Coming Band Tour Hits The Shire
As someone who is fairly well imbedded within the local music scenes I am fully aware of the issues affecting them. And one of the biggest, and potentially most damaging problems, is the desperate lack of support for new and original music, particularly that from “out of town”. Many of our venues (not all thankfully) seem to only want to cater for the same covers, tributes and local acoustic acts repeatedly as they are viewed as easy and safe, and do draw an audience of those seeking comfort in the familiar. Generally though, this is an aging audience and one that will soon grow tired of the same mediocrity, gradually drifting off into sleepy ignorance in front of the television.
Some venues do promote and support new and original music, but only if it is local bands who are able to press-gang friends and families into attendance. Out of town acts are viewed with suspicion, derision or totally ignored as they can’t “guarantee” an audience. Yes bands like the Beatles and The Stones cut their teeth playing covers, but if this attitude had always been around, what would have happened to some of the big movements in music? Punk, New Romanticism, Grunge, Baggy and Britpop in particular all relied on elements of risk from promoters and venues for them to expand from their origins. And these friends and families will soon lose the feeling of obligation to support these local bands playing the same sets in the same venues far too regularly.
A flow of “new” blood is needed to support what the locals do, to offer alternatives and new ideas and energy. If this attitude continues, and the best and most exciting bands continue to struggle to get meaningful shows “out of town” where does that leave the music scene? My fear is it will eventually erode it to nothing and we will become surgically attached to screens watching mindless drivel and bemoaning the lack of anything exciting.
So, it is fantastic to see a new tour – the Satellite Tour – doing the rounds of towns and venues that normally get missed out and bringing up-and-coming new music to intimate venues. This 14 date excursion has already announced some fantastic artists, all major label signed so this could be a rare chance to see them this local and this close. And, as you guessed by my highlighting it, the tour stops off round these parts, with a show at Fat Lil’s in Witney on February 21st. Confirmed to play so far are Sons and Lovers, who have just supported The Naked and Famous on their latest UK tour and recently released new track ‘Ghosts’, currently available as a free download, the brilliant Eliza And The Bear, fresh off the Paramore arena tour, and who have received recognition from radio across the board including plays from the likes of Fearne Cotton and Zane Lowe on Radio 1 and Virgin EMI artist Fred Page, a singer/songwriter who made his name playing independent nights across the capital.
So don’t just sit around on your expanding backside and moan about the state of things via social media, get out and discover something new. Who knows, you might find your new favourite ever band!
Tickets are only £4 and available now. Check www.satellite-tour.com for up to date details
Gig Monkeys little list “of the year”
As we sit at dawns crack of the New Year it is time for The Ocelot to jump on the great “end of year list” musical band wagon. So, for your reading pleasure, here are the “…of the year” highlights of 2013 as heard through the ears of Gig Monkey.
I have compiled this list based purely on my own opinion, and experience. Therefore it is based on local music I have witnessed live or heard myself, rather than cadging opinions from others. If you disagree with me, go and get your own column…
There have been some outstanding collections of local songs this year, and mention needs to go to Super Squarecloud, Vienna Ditto, Trophy Wife, Buswell and Deer Chicago, who have all produced stunning records that illustrate the strength of the local scenes. But the album of the year for me is an absolute no-brainer – PM by Berkshire band Case Hardin is a stunning album of Americana, a tour-de-force of nuanced writing that brings to life a cast of desperate and disparate characters and is a record I listen to at least twice a week.
This is a tough category, as we really are blessed with some amazing live performers. Amongst the many highlights live for me you can count Wiltshire’s Dead Royalties (several times), Gaz Brookfield, Old Colours and British Harlem, Berkshire’s Case Hardin and Komodo Krimes and Oxford’s Young Knives, Deer Chicago and Black Hats. But one colossus of a performance outshone all others in 2013, meaning the title goes to Wiltshire trio Nudybronque for their incendiary performance at the Ocelots 7th birthday party at The Vic in Swindon. It served notice that frontman Aiden had truly come-of-age with his incredible and hypnotic stage presence. All the talk after the show was of how people couldn’t take their eyes of him, which I am sure he hated!
This one was slightly easier to call than some other categories. Whilst there have been plenty of brilliant brand new acts out there, one stood head and shoulders above all others for the way they exploded to my attention, releasing one of the best debut EP’s I can remember. That recording was hellishly intense and never paused for breath, heavy as hell but laced with grooves and hooks in a gloriously scuzzy statement of intent. However, it was live that these two guys really took your head apart and they have to be seen to be believed. So take a bow Boss Cloth, the future of local music is in safe hands.
A hard fought category, with mentions in dispatches to the Vic in Swindon, The Wheatsheaf in Oxford and The Lamb in Devizes, but for constantly being able to pull brilliantly boisterous crowds from out of thin air I have to tip my hat to the tiny but mighty Winchester Gate in Salisbury. One of the most consistent and friendly venues you will ever visit, all music fans need to make a pilgrimage to this South Wiltshire land mark.
For nearly 8 years this sarcastic and often superbly offensive giant of the music scene ran one of the regions premier venues, doing so with such skill he almost single handedly kept a scene alive during some tough times. Many local bands owe early success to playing shows for him, and he brought large numbers of the best circuit bands to town. Most people in the area owe him for some serious hangovers and we all need to settle the score with him for the introduction of Wacky Wednesday and its karaoke torture. It is testament that the template he put in place is in use still. So our budget version of a Lifetime Achievement award goes to former gaffer of The Vic, David Young! Happy retirement (sort of) granddad…
Secret Chord Records – The New Kids On The Block
Any of you who are particularly eagle-eyed or Facebook obsessives will have noticed that some enterprising Wiltshire music buffs have decided to put their money where their mouths usually are and start up an independent record label. So, following in the footsteps of legendary indies like Factory, Rough Trade and Creation and starting up with little more than a few quid, an ear for a tune and some very good intentions is Secret Chord Records. It is an enterprise that we can’t help but shout about as labels like this are the lifeblood of the music scene, spotting, nurturing and releasing brand new talent, the sort of stuff that the major labels will not touch but is no less deserving of an audience.
Their roster is something of a mixed bunch of acts, the label wanting to avoid having generic limitations so that they can concentrate on any music that challenges convention and pushes at boundaries, and artists who want to develop and grow and express themselves without paying attention to mainstream trends. We reckon they harbour a secret desire to discover the next Beatles, Sex Pistols or Nirvana, the kind of bands that changed music and remoulded it so they can justify the monstrous egos that are in development.
That roster kicks off with a shot straight out of left field that is a pretty incredible statement of intent, as their first release is the debut album from Wiltshire art-rock noise terrorists Babies Vs Rabies, an uncompromising and dark record not for the faint-hearted. And keeping the whole “we don’t care about convention” theme going they followed this up with the debut album from mathy-art-pop-rockers Super Squarecloud, a fantastically random pop record that you will be humming for weeks to come.
Moving forward there are releases scheduled for Bristol art-punkers Dead Royalties, fellow Bristolian band Armchair Committee (who have a jaw droppingly brilliant vintage sound) and, adding a further dimension to the mix, ethereal singer songwriter Faye Rogers. And these are just the ones they have been public with, inside information suggests there are even more plans afoot.
The guys behind the label tell us that they aren’t specifically targeting local music (as you can see) but are just interested in great music that looks forwards and has bucket loads of originality and creativity. So, do the music scene a favour, check them out online, buy the records and support ventures such as this, as they are the future of music.
Secret Chord Records roster, news, information, shop and social media links can all be found at www.secretchordrecords.com
Sheer Music – The Now Legendary Musical Moonraker
This month I thought the time was overdue to highlight another one of the musical heroes who keeps the live music scene ticking over in their particular piece of Ocelotshire. Devizes based promoter Sheer Music is better known to his parents as Kieran Moore, more smile than man, the person the word irrepressible was invented for and one of the most knowledgeable music geeks you will ever meet. He is also one of the hardest working and professional promoters around, with a little black book of rock ‘n’ roll contacts to die for.
Veteran of nearly 300 gigs (a mark he is sure to pass in early 2014) promoted in Devizes and occasionally further afield in the exotic climes of Swindon and Bath, Sheer have brought an incredible list of artists to what is essentially a small market town with no dedicated music venue. But, making best use of what is available from the raggle taggle selection of pubs (The Bell By The Green and The Lamb have both been regular haunts) that populate the town, along with occasional excursions to the Corn Exchange or festival fields, Sheer have almost singlehandedly created and maintained a vibrant and productive music scene in the town.
It all began nearly 10 years ago back in the halcyon days of 2004 at Devizes Football Club, with a show featuring bands Minion Race, Quarterblind and The Septiks, since which acts of the calibre of Frank Turner, Gabby Young, Ben Marwood, New Model Army, Blackbud, Jay Jay Pistolet (Aka Justin Hayward-Young from The Vaccines), Miles Hunt and many more have trodden the boards in the town on their way to (sometimes) fame and fortune. Not bad for a two-shire-horse town in the middle of nowhere.
Kieran’s passion for music and his drive to bring the best underground and breaking acts to the area is to be envied and sets a benchmark that other promoters ought to attain to. If more did, I suspect the music scene locally would be in far ruder health. Sheer Music have plenty of shows coming up as well, for the full run down I suggest checking out the website http://sheermusic.wordpress.com and get yourself off to see your next favourite band.
Just don’t mention goats to him…
Big Birthday Bash For Swindon Viewpoint
For the last 40 years the cultural life of Swindon has been documented and archived by a team of hardy souls who are committed to capturing the life of the town on tape (and other more current technical methods). The music scene has benefited from their work in particular, as gigs, festivals and events have all been captured for posterity and are now available to view over the internet, creating a fantastic and unique record of the musical history of the town.
In celebration of the last 40 years, and to raise funds to contu=inue into the future Swindon Viewpoint are running an event at the MECA venue in Swindon. With acts as diverse as The Erin Bardwell Collective, Nudybronque, Teddy White and Tin Spirits already confirmed on the bill it promises to be a great night of local music that the whole community can enjoy. Taking place on December 20th with doors at 7.00pm keep an eye on www.facebook.com/pages/Swindon-Viewpoint/79831721506 for all the latest details and ticketing information.
How Super Squarecloud could be Supermassive
Pop is a musical world that is sadly dominated by manufactured, unimaginative plastic clones. However, if you delve beneath the populist surface into the murky depths of the music industry, you do find little neon flashes of creative brilliance and imagination. Balancing out all the boy and girl band clones, “R&B” drones and One Direction you have an LCD Soundsystem, or The Weeknd, acts that push at creative and generic boundaries, are not afraid to experiment and who generate unique music. And in the shape of Super Squarecloud Swindon has its own band of musical alchemists’ happily producing cutting edge and distinctive songs, tip toeing around established generic conventions and point blank ignoring mass-market trends.
They have always been a band that didn’t quite fit in to the local scene, treading their own path and needing a bigger stage to find the niche fan base they deserve. And with major festival appearances and national radio play already on their CV and some of the most impressive “scene” support seen recently, they have been threating to do just that for a while. One of the reasons they have reached this tipping point has been a relentless drive to do things properly – despite their lo-fi bedroom recordings origins they are one of the most professional and structured bands you will come across, with more imagination and flair than their contemporaries. And with new single Fuzi-Miao they have taken this to an extreme, conjuring a release plan of wit and creativity. Rather than manufacture a bunch of CD’s or whack a song on iTunes they have created a downloadable role playing game that contains the single as the reward for completing it.
But where did this idea come from? The band explains:
“We took inspiration, earlier in the year, from the closure of two of the biggest record stores in our home town; both the high street chain HMV and Independent record store Rise, were shut down months apart. There was some uncertainty at time whether anything would step in to fill the void, but there seemed to be a wider precedent that the ‘record store’ was and continues to be making way for digital media. Digital media is incredibly enabling, especially for bands in their infancy. In fact, especially for us, thanks to online retailers such as iTunes we released our first ep globally; we even recorded it at home. But then, that first EP also had a limited release in Rise Records, and that was a great feeling. It’s magical, seeing your work in a rack, rubbing shoulders with some of our favourite records. It’s exactly this that we lose with digital downloads. Downloading music doesn’t quite replicate the unique experience you get from a visit to the record store.”
So how does this game come in?
“Well, it is an attempt to recreate the record store experience digitally. Super Lets Buy Record is a mini ‘adventure’ style game posing as a 16bit JRPG. The game puts you in control of Steve Squarehead, a fictional fan of our band, with the simple objective to pop outside, visit the local record store, buy our record, return to his flat and then listen to the record. Upon completion, players can claim a download code for two exclusive tracks in MP3.”
And this is just the aperitif. In November there is a new album coming (reviewed next month!), recorded by Sam Bates at The Ladder Factory, the first time the band have collaborated with a producer and used a professional studio, so be expecting something pretty special. And with a series of live shows across the south in the run up to this release (check the Ocelot guide for the local ones) it is all nicely poised for them to take some big steps towards big things.
The single and game is only available via www.supersquarecloud.co.uk
The Swindon Shuffle 2013
I would like to start this review with an apology. There was so much to take in at this year’s Shuffle I will be missing loads of great bits out. Sorry, I wasn’t there for all of it and I am sadly not omnipresent. I did poll an exclusive number of other people to build a picture of events, but can’t fit it all in! The one big consistency across the myriad of events was the support of the audience, who turned out in bigger numbers than they had for years and were unbelievably enthusiastic.
This year’s Swindon Shuffle was a roaring success, albeit in a slightly different way to last year. Neatly reflecting the changes the local scene had undergone in 12 months, there were no large stages involved (with The Furnace and 12 Bar both closing and The Victoria being unavailable), so proceedings were spread over a larger number of smaller venues. Shuffle stalwart The Beehive was as busy as ever; and along with the now traditional Rolleston events and Piri Piri street party and the open-mic was joined by some new venues and styles’, meaning it was perhaps the richest festival yet. Amongst the newcomers were some more leftfield offerings, with poetry at The Core juice bar and some strange arty experimental stuff at The Post Modern, taking advantage of a real “if you want it in the Shuffle, come and do it” attitude this year. And all those involved in organising these new aspects simply asked to get involved – not complicated really, try it next year if you have an idea. The Shuffle is really heading towards being a true peoples festival.
The whole thing started off at the Running Horse acoustic session, a new Shuffle venue but a regular Wednesday fixture on the scene. Packed to the rafters and spilling out into the garden the audience were treated to some high quality acoustica from the likes of Charlie-Anne, Ben Maggs and Grubby Jack. The pace picked up on day two, with the return of the Open-Mic night at The Queens Tap, which featured some great artists, including the surprise return to battle of acoustic-grunge troubadour Tommaso Galati, and an all-star band led by Ali Finneran. Up the hill juice bar The Core was hosting a night of poetry and music featuring the incredible experimental noodlings of Wavedance.
Friday welcomed Riffs and festival newcomer The Castle to the fray both of whom rock it up in style. Meanwhile there was a huge beach party going on at Piri-Piri, with the Swindon Samba Band, Gilmore and Jazz and Bobby The Persuader getting tired feet moving. Saturday at the Castle was a bit more chilled and folky with headliners Bateleurs proving why they got to play at that little festival down the road at Worthy Farm.
Saturday also introduces some stunning experimentalism at The Post Modern gallery and the big afternoon Rolleston session featuring many highlights including the dreamy folk of Rumour Shed, punked out indie grunge of Dead Royalties and weird indie (windie?) of Nudybronque. The Beehive took care of the night’s entertainment ranging from the Psychedelia of The Automaniacs to the hybrid punk rock Americana of The AK Poets. Sticking at The Hive to move into the final day the undoubted highlight is the stunning vocals and captivating songs of Jen Olive. There was also a family fun day at Riffs and I rounded the whole thing off with my session at The Rolleston with Marky Thatcher continuing his record of playing at every Shuffle so far. Some thunderous sets from Boss Cloth and Armchair Committee led into a closing set of amazing melodic indie-pop from British Harlem that put the whole thing to bed perfectly.
It has been a busy month for Gig Monkey, so I am attempting to squeeze in loads to this column this month (note to editor – more space please). So let’s not waste any space and crack on…
In the Chair with Gappy Tooth
Something of an institution in Oxford these days, Gappy Tooth Industries have been promoting local music since forever it seems. Utilising a simple formula that works – 3 bands, any genre – they have produced some amazing shows that on paper should never work. But they do, and do so brilliantly. And this show was no exception to that. Opening act Red Panda was something of a supergroup of local talent, who went all avant garde, and played one song, for half an hour, with no lyrics, as their one and only, ever, live performance. Brilliant, Iloved the idea, and it sounded cool too. As was said at the end, if you loved it, congratulations, you have had a unique experience, if you hated it, that’s good as you will never hear it again!
Middle band was Swindon & London based avant-garde noise poppers Super Squarecloud. A sadly rare live outing these days as they have been hard at work on their debut album, but they seemed fully committed and flew through a tight set of mostly newer material. The tunes sounded brilliant and bode well for the upcoming release, with a little more emphasis on the pop elements than before. But for some reason they didn’t move most of the crowd to much more than polite applause. Hopefully return shows will endear the band to the Oxford public as they have in their home territory and further afield, as I think their sound suits the town’s scene.
Headliners were the brilliantly named Go On, Do It, Jump! who were also launching their debut EP. They had drawn a sizable and partisan crowd who all seemed to enjoy the band’s music. However, I was left with the feeling that they are not yet the finished article. Many of the components are there, but they need to work on a lot still. The songs lacked some variety, and were uninspiring a lot of the time. And there was a surprising lack of energy on stage. More gigging will do them good, give them so direction and iron out the rough edges. I also struggled to work out why there were often 3 guitars on the go, as at any moment two of them were playing exactly the same thing.
Oxford is lucky to have a promoter as free thinking as Gappy Tooth, you should get to an upcoming show as you never know what you are going to hear!
The Ocelot 7th Birthday Party. The Fall Out!
Gig of the month in Swindon was the Ocelot Magazines 7th Birthday bash at The Victoria. The main reason for this was the music, although there was another highlight, more of which later. First up was Swindons Alt-Rock titans SkyBurnsRed, who have been on something of a hiatus of late. It has done them good as I have rarely heard them sound this good and epically massive! The intricacies of their guitar / violin sound came over brilliantly. Congratulations as well from all at Castle Ocelot to Jase and Laura from the band who have since announced they are working on the next generation of rock stars! Following on Marlborough band The Vooz did what they do well, with upbeat party-rock tunes and showmanship galore but also seemed a little off their normal pace.
The party baton was then handed over to Oxford 3 piece Deer Chicago, fresh from supporting Blondie on The Isle Of Man! And to be honest, they blew me away. The songs were dynamic, full of passion and power and totally mesmerising. How can we top that I was thinking to myself. Right up to the point NudyBronque appeared on stage. This is a band that have continued to develop, constantly striving to be better at what they do, and not afraid to experiment. The new songs they dropped into the set were incredible, not as pop as earlier numbers, but much more interesting, and lyrically more adventurous. But the biggest transformation is in Aidan as a front man. Very much from the same school of awkward lankiness as Jarvis Cocker, he carries off his duties with a confidence that is exciting, and all the talk after the show was of how people couldn’t take their eyes of him, impressive stuff indeed. Oh, and the overall highlight? That would easily be Ocelot Editor Jamie taking an unexpected head first dive off the stage. Strangely he still finds it impossible to elicit anything other than howls of laughter when he goes seeking sympathy!
Black Clouds Over Tom Odell
Sound Knowledge, the brilliant independent record store in Marlborough continues to pull out all the stops to bring amazing music to the town. Recently Tom Odell, the winner of the Brits critics award, and BBC Sounds of 2013 poll rocked in to sign his debut album, and entertain the crowd with his piano plunketry.
Hughenden yard was nearly as busy as it had been for Ed Sheeran, and the crowd was similarly loaded with teenage girls, which always makes things a little surreal. Tom got off on the right foot before a note was struck by turning up with a full band, which is always a good thing in my book, and launched into an unfussy and solid set of songs. But these songs that are not all that upbeat however, seeming heavy with melancholy and despair, I could feel a mood descending that matched the ominously grey cloud clover. Disappointingly, it was a muted performance, only coming alive for closing track “Hold Me”,I had been hoping for some keyboard histrionics resembling Jerry Lee Lewis or even Jamie Cullum.
On a positive note however, he has a surprisingly good voice, cracking with emotive qualities and expression and sounding like a more musical Marcus Mumford. Musically, with the piano base and middle of the road tendencies it is this voice and his lyricism that lifts him above being a Keane clone, a fate worse than death in my eyes. Full marks to Sound Knowledge for attracting artists of this profile, although this one does not get filed in the folder marked “Classic Performance”.