Sunday, 27 April 2014

Mama - O2 Academy Sheffield 26 April 2014

A number of things happen when you reach a 'certain age'. One is that you become increasingly difficult to shop for for birthdays (there is a limit to how many socks you can own), and another is that the bands you like from your youth are ageing as rapidly as you are and are therefore not likely to be as active as they used to (unless they're the Rolling Stones). Yesterday was my 53rd birthday, and I faced both of these problems head-on as I had suggested to my wife that it might be nice to go and see Mama, an 'all era Genesis tribute band' - which may be the nearest I now get to seeing my favourite band from my teens.

The venue was intimate, shall we say: we were seated at a table near the back and were no more than 10 or 12 feet from the stage. A reasonable crowd for the venue - around 40-50 people - gathered. Most seemed knowledgeable of the original material and could be heard singing along, even when not energetically encouraged to do so by front man and vocalist John Wilkinson. The light show was good for a small venue, though I was a little disappointed by the sound quality in places.

The set lasted 2½ hours without a break other than the obligatory one before the encore, and was as follows:
Duke Medley (Behind the Lines, Duchess, Guide Vocal)
Turn it on Again
The Carpet Crawl (with introduction from Dancing with the Moonlit Knight)
No Son of Mine
Solsbury Hill
Land of Confusion
Follow You, Follow Me
Dodo/ Lurker
Fading Lights
Spectral Mornings
In the Air Tonight
In The Cage Medley (In the Cage, Cinema Show, Slippermen)
Encore - I Know What I Like (including That's All, Illegal Alien, Your Own Special Way, Follow You, Follow Me, Stagnation)
Musically the songs were very tight and true to the originals, as one would expect from a tribute band. Brothers Mark & John Comish did admirable work on guitar and keyboards respectively, reproducing Hackett & Banks's riffs and solos spotlessly, and Dave Perry (bass) & James Cooper (drums) provided a solid rhythm section throughout. Vocally John Wilkinson sings Phil Collins's songs very well, with a good range and a powerful voice - he clearly models his own singing style on Collins. This fits well with the choice of material, and this is where my only gripe with the show surfaces.

A cursory glance through the set-list will witness that there was very little material from the Peter Gabriel era of the band: essentially three songs, with the introduction from a fourth, and instrumental sections from a further three. The rest of the material is heavily skewed towards the 80s material of the 3-piece band of Collins, Banks & Rutherford, and what they did sing from the 'classic' period of the band were all songs that Collins had performed on their live albums (and almost exactly as he had performed them, in terms of medleys and vocal improvisations). Now I am willing to concede that what they played was from the more commercially-successful, and therefore better-known albums, and that the Gabriel-era of the band only lasted for 6 of their roughly 40 years of active life, but as a purist I would perhaps have liked to have seen more from those formative years from a 'all-era' tribute band.

Having said that, it was good to see material from Gabriel, Hackett and Collins's solo careers included, and it was to be fair a great night: I was singing along at full throttle with the rest of them for most of the night! If you enjoy the music that Genesis made particularly from the 80s onwards, then check this band out: it may be the only opportunity you get to see it performed live these days.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

These Curious Thoughts - What is it, and how did it get in there?

So, I get a friend request on Facebook from someone I'm not familiar with, which I respond to positively, because there are times when I can be an adventurous king of guy (not all the time: I like to keep folks guessing). Shortly after that I received a message from my new 'friend' on my Timeline, asking if I would be interested in reviewing an album, and as I'm not only an adventurous kind of guy (at times), I'm always open to new music. So, here is the review.

My new friend is a chap by the name of Jim Radford, who is one half of a transatlantic musical partnership that goes by the name of These Curious Thoughts. Jim lives in Kent in the UK and writes lyrics. He then sends these to his partner in song, Sean Dunlop in Detroit, Michigan, who sets them to music. As a working relationship this must be working well, as they've been doing this for the last ten years, producing 5 albums together (and currently working on a sixth).

The collection under consideration was released last year (2013), and is my first and only experience of the band. It runs for just over 65 minutes, and contains 16 songs ranging from 2:48 to 6:49. The tunes are not easy to pigeonhole: they have elements of pop, of indie music and of prog about them at times; there is an attractive variety of style, rhythm, pace and time signature which is increasingly attractive; and there are echoes of and allusions to a number of other bands in their music and lyrics. For instance I heard reminders of Tom Petty's work with the Travelling Wilburys in 'Brain in a Jar', and Slade's 'Far Far Away' in 'Over a Desk' (as well as hints of Morrisey). The most common link for others, and I can see what they mean in many places, is one with REM.

The songs range from the quirky ('John Wayne', about Batman's brother rather than the cowboy actor), to the moody & melancholic ('Because She is Love' and 'Bad Milk'), to the rocking and up-beat ('Heavy Like a Rock' and 'Messed Up'). The music is well played, and it is good to hear the bass given quite a prominent place in the mix in songs like 'Messed Up' and 'Daughter of Morpheus', and a quite stunning guitar solo from about 4:00 in 'DNA Bounce' (which builds to a cacophonous crescendo a la 'A Day in the Life').

The lyrics have at times a quirky British-ness to them, somewhat akin to 10CC in their heyday, full at times of clever 'schoolboy' puns (well, the kind of puns I used as a schoolboy) and the occasional existential angst - "there's a spoon in my mouth and my tongue is a fork"; "am I dead or alive, or in between?" They can make you smile and make you think, which can never be a bad thing.

Having enjoyed this set of tunes, I may well find myself checking out some of their other material. Thanks, Jim for your imagination, and for Sean's music, which mesh together beautifully. If you appreciate music that engages head and heart, but still appeals to popular sensibilities then I would recommend you give these guys a listen.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Did e'er such love and sorrow meet

There's a new post of my other blog for Good Friday, which you can find here.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Simon Godfrey - Motherland

One of my most exciting musical finds of recent years has been the band ‘Tinyfish’. They have a wonderful Englishness about them, that is reflected in their music and also in the sense of fun and humour that pervades what they do, particularly in their live shows. At the heart of that is their ebullient front-man, Simon Godfrey. Having discovered this brilliant band it came as a great sadness to learn that, following their excellent ‘The Big Red Spark’, there would be a hiatus in the band’s playing and recording together. Thankfully this didn’t mean an end to the music: Godfrey went on to record a kind of ‘techno-prog’ album with Shineback – ‘Rise up Forgotten, Return Destroyed’, and recently he has released his first collection of work under his own name – ‘Motherland’.

Simon Godfrey - Motherland - cover

This is an album of short, simple songs (nothing over six minutes), but strong ones nonetheless: songs that, though simple, display a deceptive complexity. A collection of 11 tracks which total just under 43 minutes, this is song-writing from the heyday of the acoustic troubadours. Although dominated by the acoustic guitar, this collection displays a variety of musical textures accompanied by strong, distinctive and at times quite emotional and emotive vocals. For those familiar with Simon’s earlier work, this collection is, to my ears, more Tinyfish than Shineback.

That said, the album opens with a fresh rendering of a track from the Shineback album, ‘Faultlines’, which for the first minute or so creates an expectation for the album that is soon overturned, with a moody, ambient drone giving way to folky steel guitar. The mood of the songs varies from the thoughtful and slightly melancholic ‘Faultlines’ and the instrumental title track, (with spoken word from Godfrey’s long-time collaborator Robert Ramsay) through the upbeat sequence of ‘Tearing up the Room’, ‘God Help Me If I’m Wrong’ and Tinyfish classic ‘The June Jar’, to the slow, dreamy ballad ‘Sally Won’t Remember’, for me perhaps the most heartfelt song on the album.

From what I have seen and read of Simon Godfrey, he is a man who appears to enjoy life – perhaps more so now that he has secured his visa to enable him to live, work and marry in America; he is one with a great, and at times strange, sense of humour, but who shows here a seriousness and sensitivity alongside his fun side. If this is to be his parting gift to his ‘Motherland’, then it is a fine one.

(Also published on

Friday, 4 April 2014


It's not often that I go to see a movie that has had as many bad reviews as has Darren Aronofsky's 'Noah', but having seen and heard so much negativity surrounding this film, I felt I ought to take a look for myself and see what all the fuss was about.

The story of Noah and his ark is one that is still (I think) told to children as it was to me when I was young. The cosy image of the bearded old man with his boat full of all kinds of animals can be an endearing one. The biblical story on which it is based is a little earthier than the cutesy idea that is often portrayed, and it was good to see that Aronofsky didn't shy away from some of the meatier aspects of the tale.
The biblical story is one of judgement for humanity's disobedience, tinged with hope as God chooses Noah and his family to be the ones to restart the human project. Aronofsky's take seemed to me to be less hopeful, until near the end of the film when Noah seems to have a change of heart when confronted with his twin grand-daughters. Noah is portrayed early on as some kind of vegetarian crusader, appalled at what he sees as the needless slaughter of animals for food (yet not averse to slaying more than a few humans when he or his family are threatened) who is told of the impending destruction of humanity by The Creator (the only way to which any deity is referred). As the story unfolds he becomes convinced that, even though he and his family are being saved from the deluge, that they too deserve to perish with the rest of humanity, though this should be through natural means, rather than the horrors of drowning. (!)

What seems to have upset a number of critics - particularly those from the evangelical wing of the Christian constituency - is that this is not a strict telling of the biblical story from Genesis. The stories of the flood in Genesis 6-9 (the biblical account is an amalgamation of at least two sources, as any attentive reading will show) only give certain details of what may have taken place (I am firmly of the opinion that this is myth rather than strict history): what Aronofsky does is use his creative licence to fill in some of the gaps. Some of that ways he does this are quite fanciful to say the least: The Watchers - fallen angels who became encased in stone and whose initial task was to protect Cain after his banishment, but who then help Noah with the construction of the Ark - did seem just a little too far-fetched. But the tension between Noah's family - descendants of Seth, the third son of Adam & Eve - and the rest of humanity, descended from Cain did seem plausible, and their leader, Tubal-Cain, was played with Ray Winstone's usual menace to great effect. It was also good to see that the epilogue to the story, where Noah gets drunk and is seen passed-out and naked by his son Ham, was included (though not the cursing of Ham and his descendants).

There were a number of nods to the contemporary world within the film. The green agenda was a prominent under-current early on for me, as was its flip-side in the exploitation of the world that Tubal-Cain seemed to be advocating. In Noah's telling of the story of creation, Aronofsky managed to combine the biblical creation myth with images depicting the Big Bang, the formation of galaxies and planets, and the processes of evolution seamlessly, demonstrating that these two ideas don't need to be seen as being mutually exclusive (which for me can only be a good thing). And in one of the dream sequences which depicts the descent of humanity into depravity, some of the images of human death spanned the centuries up to the present day, which, although anachronistic, demonstrates maybe that judgement and salvation are still relevant today as topics for thought and action. And there is always the sub-plot of family tensions - sibling rivalry/ jealousy and the tensions between father and sons (particularly the troubled middle one) - to contend with.

As a piece of entertainment it was OK, no more. As an adaptation of a biblical tale, it was patchy at best. The acting was really nothing to write home about: I think all of the main leads have done better work. Visually it was OK - though I only saw the 2D version - with some quite good special effects.

All in all, not as bad as some have made out, but not a film that I'll be busting a gut to watch again.