Mike & the Mechanics ScrollerValentine’s Night in Buxton. You can’t get a table for a pre-concert meal without somebody thrusting a bunch of roses up your nose and insisting sir has the pink almond parfait cluster as a starter and you can’t get to the bar for snoggers, both the partnered and the furtive. Why do we keep foisting these ridiculous American celebrations of nothing in particular upon ourselves? Anyone for Black Friday….!

Gratitude, then, that tonight there’s a very trad Brit serving at the Opera House and not some awful American import. Bah, humbug.

Ben McKelvey has the task of opening for the rude mechanicals tonight and he’s clearly still trying to get over the shock of being asked to do so. His debut album “Life and Love in England” did rather well on the I-Tunes songwriter chart and you can see why. There are a couple or three contenders in his short set, hammered out with gusto and conviction on acoustic guitar, voice and tea-chest, including the rather lovely “Sunday”. Ben McKelvey inhabits a somewhat overpopulated sector of the musical universe and it is difficult to cut through the mediocrity and the ‘heard-it-all-before’; but he’s refreshingly honest, clearly delighted to be given a shot at playing some decent venues on a ‘proper’ tour and worth a listen.

And so, we present – Mike and the Mechanics. Pretty much an FM radio staple in the UK. They have been since the late 80’s. They seem to have been built on the same principle as Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, in that the Mechanics seem to change and adapt to personnel changes and the requirements of that whilst also adapting to the demands of the songs which Mike Rutherford is writing at the time, with a variety of collaborators.

The first point to note is that if you’ve come out to revel in a night of Genesis nostalgia, this probably won’t be for you. There are Genesis tunes in the mix; specifically two tonight, “I Can’t Dance” and “Land Of Confusion” but their own repertoire is too wide and varied to become overly taken up with that; both songs were extremely well played but felt rather like a crowd-pleaser for the many Genesis fans in the audience; indeed, at one point Rutherford, rather endearingly, referred to Genesis as his ‘school band’. There was also a brief interlude where Andrew Roachford, now one of the Mechanics, sang his big solo stadium anthem ‘”Cuddly Toy”; the rest, however, was an interesting mash – up of Mechanised classics and tracks from the forthcoming album “Let Me Fly”.

If I might be permitted to deal with the matter of “Let Me Fly” first, the tracks from this which were given an airing seemed extremely tidy and show yer man Rutherford still knows how to pen a tune which flatters the FM medium beautifully; “The Best Is Yet To Come”, “Are You Ready” and the gloriously optimistic manifesto title track “Let Me Fly” are well worth a listen, preferably in an open-topped car (serving suggestion).

The Mikes’ classic hits are played with verve and a tremendous ear for detail and are a timely reminder that Mr Rutherford knows the difference between an airplay confection of the highest order (eg. “All I Need Is A Miracle”; check the intro. Music radio hour-starter all century long, trust me) and a stadium anthem (eg. “Word Of Mouth”). And of course the show-stopper, “The Living Years”, which I suspect is probably a ‘Desert Island Disc’ for a massive number of people who would only claim to have a passing interest in music. And in fairness, I think this is probably the biggest greatest achievement of Mike and the Mechanics; without a screamingly strong or obvious image and with a devoted but understated fan base, they do attract an audience who, along with the expected Genesis diehards and fans enjoy the music, don’t necessarily think about it too much, wouldn’t claim tribal allegiance to any particular ‘type’ of music or specific band, but like what they like and they like this. A bit like being an ELO fan, I suppose.

Probably the greatest compliment I could pay to the current line – up is that the phenomenal talent that is Paul Carrack is not missed in the slightest. Tim Howar and Andrew Roachford bring an excellent rock / R’n’B balance to the songs and Roachford definitely adds a whole slice of soul to tunes which, in their studio manifestation, might to some ears appear as a little sterile on occasion. On “Get Up” they even seem to create a sort of Sam and Dave vibe – and when Roachford disappears off into a seemingly-effortless vocal ‘fill’, the ghost of Sam Cooke suddenly enters the room. Which might appear to be a bit weird in the context of this kind of party – but the apparition is strangely appropriate and indeed welcome.

And that’s pretty much what you get; an extremely professional, fabulously well played body of largely original but familiar hit music and some nice new tunes thrown in. If you’re looking for ground-breaking creativity, probably not for you, but only the most churlish would be unmoved by the remarkable musicianship, finely-crafted songs and careful onstage recreations of productions of the highest standard. They’re touring the length and breadth for the next thirty dates and if you miss them, it’s your loss. I will also admit I might now wish to catch Andrew Roachford on his solo tour this autumn.

 What’s not to like?

Amanda review scrollerSo the Americana Music Association UK awards and showcase rolls around again. It was back to Hackney, and this time the event was spread over three venues. Potential for clashes there but when the line-up was published, everything was fine. My two must-sees didn’t clash, so all systems were go for Amanda Rheaume at Paper Dress Vintage and Wild Ponies finishing the event at Moth Club. All I needed was two superb performances and my night would be complete. Spoiler alert; both bands were exceptional.

I’d visited Paper Dress Vintage in its previous location in Shoreditch and, yes, it’s a quirky combination of vintage clothes shop and gig venue. At least in the Hackney incarnation the bands don’t play in the window with a bus station as a backdrop. Amanda Rheaume has been touring the UK with guitar/pedal steel player Anders Drerup and bass player Anna Ruddick in support of her “Holding Patterns” album and they’re a potent live combination, creating a punchy live sound with help of some great harmonies and stomping foot percussion. The songs sound great on the album but the tight, punchy live sound was even better and a packed venue made for a memorable set, with the band tearing through a short showcase set (including the album opener “Get to the Part”, “Wolf of Time” and the relationship song “Dead Horse”) and leaving the audience wanting more. Amanda’s voice has a slightly rawer, raunchier quality in the live setting and her introductions established a genuine rapport between audience and performers.

Wild Ponies (Doug and Telisha Williams) enlisted the help of a British drummer to augment the line-up for their festival-closing set and closed out in epic style; it was a proper festival headliner set taken mainly from their 2016 album “Radiant” (which certainly is). They eased the audience in gently with “Born with a Broken Heart”, the album’s opening track before letting Mike Pence have both barrels with “Love Is Not a Sin”. They bravely slowed down the set with a beautiful new ballad “Hearts and Bones” before taking the Moth roof off with a storming version of “Unplug the Machine”, one of my favourite songs of 2016.

Both of these artists had cracking albums out last year. You should give them a listen and watch out for their next appearance near you. You can see some pictures of Amanda Rheaume at Paper Dress Vintage here and some Wild Ponies pictures from Moth here. Now, when’s the next gig?

wade-scrollerThere was something different about The Borderline; you could sense it in the air. It wasn’t the wall-to-wall double denim and hundred-times-washed black tour t-shirt crowd that I normally see at blues/rock gigs there. No, this was something very different; at least half of the crowd was Texan. Before you ask, yes, I did hear quite a few yee-hahs and I even saw a Stetson. I’m not even sure there weren’t a couple of longhorns lurking over by the cloakroom. The reason for this Texan invasion of W1 was that singer-songwriters Wade Bowen and Willy Braun (of Reckless Kelly fame) were opening their UK tour in London.

As co-headliners, they opted for the song swap format, both players on stage from start to finish and playing songs in turn. If you judge these things by quantity, at around thirty songs, that’s a pretty good deal. Add in the fact that they were all great songs, beautifully performed and that’s a pretty good night. The differing vocal styles added another bit of variety; Willy has more country inflections whereas Wade has more of a modern Nashville style voice, crossing over into a more rock intonation. The whole show was held together by the rapport between the two performers and with the audience, with plenty of chat between songs, explaining their origins, talking about visiting London for the first time and, inevitably, the result of the presidential election two days before.

From Wade, there were a few songs about drinking, including “Saturday Night” and “Sweet Leona” as well as the inevitable hangover song “When I Woke Up Today” while Willy did his bit with “Pennsylvania Avenue”, Tee Champ” and a country version of the Beatles’ “ I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party”. The standouts for me were Willy’s new song “Moment in the Sun” and Wade’s “A Battle Won” with a special mention for Willie’s cover of the Lukas Nelson song “Georgia”. It was an entrancing evening watching two people do what they love.

Just another couple of things; I was gobsmacked at the number of people who thought it was ok to hold conversations during an acoustic performance despite repeatedly being told to STFU. To counterbalance that, with a performer’s instinct, Wade managed to home in on a Spanish fan and his son (both Luis), who had flown into London on the day of the gig and were flying back the same night. Luis and Luis, I salute you; that is true dedication and I’m pleased you had a great night in London.

eleanor-scrollerWell, it was certainly an interesting night out in Camden. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Underhill Rose since I had to miss a show earlier this year and what could be better than watching them play at Green Note. Just one little problem; the queue outside and the absence of any kind of lighting didn’t look too good, but it takes more than a power cut to close Green Note. After a slight delay to position dozens of tea lights around the room, the venue opened and things went ahead pretty much as normal, Underhill Rose had decided to play a completely unplugged set rather than disappoint the sellout crowd. Not having power isn’t necessarily a problem for players brought up in acoustic tradition, and a candle-lit gig does have a certain romance to it. In a typical twist of fate, almost immediately after the stage had been cleared of mic stands and DI boxes at the interval, the power was restored but by that stage, neither the audience nor the band wanted to move away from the acoustic format.

Underhill Rose is Eleanor Underhill (banjo and harmonica), Molly Rose Reed (guitar) and Salley Williamson (upright bass) and they all sing, creating some of the most gorgeous harmonies you’re likely to hear. The songs are all beautifully crafted and the live performances make good use of all the vocal and instrumental textures available to them. After the drama of creating a scene that took us back almost a century, it was appropriate that Underhill Rose opened their first set with “Not Gonna Worry”. It’s difficult to pick favourites from a set packed with lovely songs and performances, but a song dedicated to friends, “They Got my Back”, the swing-tinged “Whispering Pines Motel” and “Montana” did it for me and a cover of “These Boots Were Made for Walking” was a huge crowd-pleaser.

Watching Underhill Rose at any time is a pleasure and a privilege; an intimate performance by candlelight is a once in a lifetime experience. I’ve never been so happy about a power cut (or should that be outage). A wonderful night.

They also played their current single “One Time a Year” which is out now. It’s a great single and a portion of the proceeds from each sale will go to Women for Women International.

You can see some photos from the night here.

wah-scrollerThere was a time in the mid-eighties when the north-west of England, and Liverpool in particular, dominated the music scene. The Crucial Three, Pete Wylie, Ian McCulloch and Julian Cope, were at the top of the pile, bursting with creativity, vision and sheer audacity and never short of an outrageous quote for the press. Fast forward thirty years and Ian McCulloch’s in semi-retirement, Julian Cope’s a scholar and novelist, and Pete Wylie’s still doing what he does best; as the t-shirt says ‘Part-time rock star, full-time legend’. Which is why I was wedged in to a heaving crowd at The Water Rats in Kings Cross, watching him prove it, with the current incarnation of The Mighty Wah. He’s still got it.

The room was packed with fans from the eighties, London-based Scousers and even Liverpool-based Scousers, so he didn’t really have to warm them up. As soon as the stage lights went up, it went, well, chicken oriental, as they say in these parts. Pete Wylie’s gained something that you wouldn’t have expected from his eighties pronouncements; he’s learned to have a bit of a chuckle at his own expense. The chats with the audience between songs are sometimes funny, sometimes political (Thatcher and Trump) and sometimes fond reminiscence (Pete Burns and Wylie’s good friend Josie Jones, who was commemorated with the criminally under-rated “4 11 44”). There was plenty of nostalgia, but some powerful new material as well.

When the band kicked into “Come Back” as the second song in the set, it was an acknowledgement that Pete Wylie has anthems to spare, he didn’t need to save this classic for the end of the set. The rest of the set included “Heart as Big as Liverpool”, “Seven Minutes to Midnight” (record of the week in four music papers), “Story of the Blues” and a version of “Sinful” which morphed into “Heroes” as a Bowie tribute. Just when the audience thought he’d run out of anthems, for the encore the band blazed through “I Still Believe”, a new song from the album that’s as good as anything he’s ever written. The album’s called “Pete Sounds”; now that’s what I meant by audacity.

For ninety minutes, a little corner of Kings Cross turned into mid-eighties Liverpool. Trust the t-shirt; Pete Wylie is an absolute full-time legend.

laurent-mouflier-scrollerYou certainly can’t accuse Time Out of ignoring up and coming talent; they’ve been running the Rising Stars event in various venues across London, including Jazz Café (newly refurbished and looking very nice indeed), 229 The Venue and Green Note featuring half a dozen unsigned acts performing showcase sets. They’ve covered a wide spectrum of styles and featured all sorts of line-ups from solo artists to full bands. The one thing they all have in common is quality; the September selection was no exception.

Mark Sullivan opened the evening with a set of soulful acoustic songs backed only with his acoustic guitar and a loop pedal (oh, and a stunningly powerful voice). He threw everything into the performance and finished with a cover of the unplugged version of “Layla”; job done. If you were expecting Malory Torr to turn up wielding a ukelele, you would have been disappointed, but not for long. Backed by bass, drums and keyboards (and some lovely harmonies), she delivered an atmospheric set including a cover of “She Drives Me Crazy”. Joe Slater (from Liverpool) played a short set in singer-songwriter/Jake Bugg style, finishing off with the by now, obligatory cover, “Live Forever” this time. And then it all got a bit loud.

Nick Howe played a barnstormer with a full band and a beatboxer. Powerful songs, a band who were on top of their game, and a cover of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” were the highlights. Wang Dang Doodle hark back to the golden age of blues harp players with Laurent Mouflier’s gritty voice and superb harmonica playing topping off the glorious noise created by Mylon Kosmas, Francesco Cuturi and Ben Heartland. Stellify completed the line-up on the night with their classic rock sound of big riffs and thunderous bass and drums.

Another great night, with only one reservation and it’s about the audience rather than the performers. Why is it that audiences at showcase events (not just Rising Stars) drift away after seeing whichever act has brought them there? Wang Dang Doodle and Stellify played storming sets to a half-empty hall. It wasn’t even 10:30. The artists and Ray Jones and his Time Out team put a lot of work into making these events successful; why would you leave halfway through?

You can see some photos from the night here.

BW ScrollerMy mate can drink 3 pints of lager through a straw in less time than it takes to boil a kettle.

According to some, this makes him a ‘legend’.

Brian Wilson is regarded by many as a ‘genius’.

I would argue these labels have caused problems for both men and have probably influenced their behaviour and probably not in a good way.

Fortunately, these days, Brian Wilson is old enough (73) and wise enough to realise that Einstein was a genius and yer man Brian Wilson is extremely good at what he does and what he did. It kind of takes some of the pressure off.

Crushed up against the barrier for one of a very small number of UK dates at the ‘Together The People’ Festival in Brighton on a soaking wet and windswept evening that screamed ‘Autumn!’ very loudly isn’t really the vibe you want upfront of the appearance of the guy most responsible for connecting music and summer in America in the sixties, but this is Britain after all, and all that a temperate climate implies. Or to put it another way I’m cold and wet and I really hope this is worth it.

The ensemble set-up is promising though, with a massive array of instruments you aren’t likely to see at many festivals this year. This is perhaps unsurprising as Wilson’s band intend to recreate “Pet Sounds”, the 1966 album which forced the Beatles to ‘up their game’; a fantastically complex concoction which even with today’s technologies must be a challenge to present. For it is 50 years since Brian Wilson recorded “Pet Sounds”, and this tour honours that landmark.

It is also a ‘good sign’ when the best part of a dozen musicians troop on, including The Man Himself and fellow founding Beach Boy Al Jardine, who is so fabulously wealthy he CAN’T be doing this for the money. This clearly isn’t going to be a bargain basement cabaret trip. These boys look like they mean this.

But what are we going to get? Fabulous though it is, the album is not two hours long. Intentions stated straight away, though and after the briefest of intros Wilson announces the band’s intention to start with the ‘finest record The Beach Boys ever made’ – a sentiment Al Jardine seemed to concur with – “California Girls”. Cue the mellotron-style opening and flatulent orchestration, which sounds like distilled essence of summer, and off we go. Rinky-dinky, rinky dinky, rinky dinky, rinky dinky, Game On, we’re off and running. “I Get Around”, ”Shut Down” and “Little Deuce Coupe” in short order, followed by Jardine taking the lead on “California Saga”.

So, twenty minutes in and we’ve already had songs about girls, cars, California surf culture. That’ll do me, lads, we can all go home happy now. Quit while you’re ahead.

On, then, troops Blondie Chaplin, a South African guitarist who was a Beach Boy for a year or so in the early 70’s. He’s a real old Les Paul-totin’ rocker and he’s been in with the Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, and insert name here. Some observers have been a bit unkind about his contribution to the tour but I must say I really think it added a bit of mid-set ‘grit’ to proceedings and he made a fine job of “Wild Honey” and the massively under-rated “Sail On Sailor”.

After that Wilson introduces the “Pet Sounds” section of the show, slightly apologetically announcing that we’ll be back to some good old rock n roll later; but for now, the band will present us with the more personal and intimate delights of probably the most influential American album of the sixties (a claim I make despite the fact it took America about two decades to realise this).

And sure enough that’s exactly what they do, from the angel’s harp and six-ton drum strike which announces “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, through the Folkeoke of “Sloop John B” and the song which Jardine blithely reminds us is Paul McCartney’s favourite song, the majestic, dignified and perfect “God Only Knows” through to the crystalline beauty of “Caroline, No”, complete with the audio train charging across the stage marking the end of the album with the barmy barking dog et al.

And did they pull it off?

Too right they did.

But how? It is no secret that the ageing process and the difficulty of the journey has robbed Brian Wilson of some of that fabulous range and vocal flexibility. He also seems to need a bit of help with the lyrics, using a sight screen linked to a tablet computer. No shame in that. That’s just using technology to support what you’re doing. No different to using a PA system or an FX pedal. And he has another formidable weapon in his armoury as well. He’s in fine voice trucking through the mid range sections of the likes of “California Girls” but when it all gets a bit much he chucks the ball across to Matt Jardine, who was pitch-perfect all night and reached the places which a 73-year voice could no longer be reasonably expected to scale (and in fairness, sometimes never did; many of the most striking voice parts on the original recordings weren’t Brian Wilson).

He’s also got Al Jardine. We were warned upfront of the tour that he might not be at all the dates, but I don’t see how. Quite apart from his audible contributions to proceedings he did seem to be a key part of Traffic Control on stage; a lot of what happened seemed to be going ‘through’ him and if that’s the case then you can call me Al, for this was a masterclass.

And Wilson’s penultimate secret weapon; the band. With a total age somewhere around 10,000 years or so they are probably the oldest collective I have ever seen at a rock gig; but what you get is the sum total of a great many misspent youths. If I were Brian Wilson, even if I reached the point where I couldn’t sing anymore or tinkle the ivories I’d probably still want to tour with them just for the sheer joy of hearing my compositions played before a live audience with such love and craft. They are very special musicians.

All great musicians attract the best musicians. That’s a given. But these are something else. At times the sound from percussion, through keyboard to the bass sax and back through the spectacular control of the often mind-boggling bass guitar parts, was breath-taking.

And the final clincher is the material. “Pet Sounds” played live is an earth-shattering experience. And to think this guy created this when he was only 23. It is a work of, errm…..

And just in case anybody thinks it is home time; how about “Good Vibrations”, “Help Me, Rhonda”, “Barbara Ann” – played more rocked-up than I recall and evoking the ‘garage’ feel of the original version by The Regents – “Fun Fun Fun” and a balls-out “Surfin’ USA”. Ensemble bow, no encore, PA system plays “Beach Baby” by British band First Class, and a slightly stunned and absolutely soaked clutch of folks make their way back through the Brighton mud.

Now hear ye. We’re in the 90th minute with this now. Catch this tour. I don’t care what you have to do. Go to Oslo if you have to. Yes, Brian Wilson will barely move throughout the evening. Yes, his voice isn’t capable of doing all the things it did a while ago. But…..the body of work, the range of songs played, the virtuosity of the band, the sheer richness of the sound. And the voices. The Voices, plural. Unfortunately due to the age-related limitations I’ve already referred to I can’t give this the 5-star review it probably deserves because as I’ve said before, you can only review what is in front of you. But it was pretty clear to me I had been in the presence of genius.

Damn. That G – word again. Sorry, Brian.

Estuary Fringe DCS ScrollerIt’s not just Edinburgh that has a festival in August. What about Southend? Maybe not as fashionable but there’s a great arts scene around Southend and its satellites. So, on a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon, why not head out to have a look at The Railway Hotel’s contribution to the Estuary Fringe Festival which is an afternoon session in the beer garden followed by more live bands inside in the evening. I got there just as the belly dancing was finishing and the stage was being set up for live music (with background music leaning heavily on blues classics and some nice Al Stewart songs).

First on stage was Pick Yer Feet Up, or Eleanor Donne (fiddle) and Dave Murray (twangs and bangs) playing a selection of ‘bogus Bulgarian bangers’. It was relatively low-key but very melodic in an Eastern European way with a nice line in dry patter from Dave between songs. In the great old Python tradition of ‘now for something completely different’, next up was Dirty Captain Scott. What can I say? A twentieth-century estuary poet backed with cajon beats (and guitar towards the end of the set). The rhythms were insistent and the delivery, well, imagine Adele rapping and you’re most of the way there. A great set that you just couldn’t ignore.

Next? The Timlins (Matt and Victoria) played a lovely set of melancholy (maybe even miserable) songs, reminding me a lot of Turin Brakes and (bonus points if you remember this band) Budapest. Victoria’s keyboard filled out the textures created by Matt’s acoustic guitar and the harmonies were sublime. Personally, I like a bit of miserable; always have. Dead Air next, playing their first (and possibly only) gig, played a set of folky Americana with a female lead singer, acoustic guitar and mandolin backing and some lovely harmonies. If you wanted a backing track for an English summer day you wouldn’t go far wrong here.

And on to Phil Burdett, backed by long-term collaborators John Bennett (guitar), Steve Stott (mandolin and fiddle) and Colleen McCarthy (backing vocals). This was only Phil’s second live appearance after major surgery earlier in the year and he was a man on a mission, determined to get songs from his two (yes, two) new albums out there in a live setting. Throughout the set, the arrangements were a masterclass in understatement; the instruments created a framework that allowed the songs to shine. John Bennett is subtle and understated in a way that reminds me a lot of Steve Cropper; no fuss, but just try to imagine The MGs without the guitar parts. Even “New Greyhound Rag”, which was written as full band piece with bass, drums and various other bits of percussion is driven along nicely by the two guitars.

But just focus on the songs. From the opener “Sea Change” to “A Kind of Chalkwell Station Blue”, the short set was packed with melodic and lyrical invention.  The lines ‘you switch the channel in your mind – and on the news voices buzz like cracked kazoos the needle stuck on tombstone blues’ are a great example of Phil’s ability to create a striking, evocative image. All delivered to perfection in Phil’s mellow growl. You really shouldn’t get music this good for free in a pub beer garden, even if the pub is The Railway.

I’m looking forward to seeing Phil officially launch “Humble Ardour Refrains” and “Shaky Path to Arcadia” on November 5th in Southend.

If you haven’t seen them before, here are some pictures of the event.

05) CarinaIt’s great to get a gig where you have no idea to expect and it turns out to be an absolute banger; this was one of those gigs. Until I reviewed her recent retrospective, “Deranged to Divine”, Carina Round was only a name that rang a very faint bell. Now I know she has a huge fanbase and can easily fill a decent small venue like The Lexington on Pentonville Road. Actually, the venue’s quite a bit better than that; the sound is excellent and the lines of sight are good because of the raised area in front of the bar. So far, so good.

Support act for Carina’s UK tour is She Makes War (or Laura Kidd) who made her way on the stage with help of a crutch, which gave her lots of material for chat between songs about compensation claims. She delivered a fine set of introspective songs (some about ex-partners) with some innovative backing courtesy of a Les Paul, a ukulele, a megaphone and a loop pedal. I’ve been suffering from loop pedal fatigue for a while now, but Laura, and later Carina, showed that it can still be a creative tool. Highlights of Laura’s set were “Drown Me Out”, “Please Don’t”, ”Paper Thin”, “Scared to Capsize” and the raucous “Cold Shoulder”.

Carina wasn’t going to just turn up with a guitar and run through a few songs; her perfectionism means that she needs to create a complete performance, and this extended to a stunning light show created by one projector and a small screen. She opened the set with an astonishing, moody, loop pedal a cappella interpretation of “The Secret of Drowning”, setting the tone for a set of powerful interpretations of her songs, including “You and Me”, “Mother’s Pride”, “Back Seat”, “For Everything a Reason” and the haunting “Lacuna”. The performance had an intensity that comes from a desire to be exceptional combined with a natural fear of exposure on stage, which leaked out in a couple of snappy comments, although the overall impression was that (eventually) Carina knew that it was an outstanding show.

And I’m not underestimating the part that the audience played. They were obviously devoted fans desperate to hear every little nuance; they were completely silent during the songs and wildly enthusiastic in their applause. They were also the most polite audience I’ve ever experienced.

You can get some idea of the stunning visuals from the photos here.

Somewhat Damaged ScrollerAnother Saturday, another venue to tick off the list. The Unicorn on Camden Road seems incongruous in this area; you think it should maybe be a mile down the road with all the vibey places in Camden Town. But maybe it works because of the distance. Anyway, the reason for this excursion from the well-travelled path is to check out a pub that’s daring to put on live music six nights a week; tonight’s offering was the “Somewhat Damaged” night offering four very different live sets. It wasn’t packed to the rafters, but it was reasonably busy, with an enthusiastic audience.

So, first up was a solo set from Adam Lightspeed playing acoustic versions of some new songs and some from his band Starscream’s debut album. It was a valiant attempt, but the album versions lean heavily on big productions and the songs weren’t the same in the stripped-down format. Full marks for effort; it can be a lonely place on stage solo when the room’s nowhere near full. The album “Sexploitation” is definitely worth a listen though.

Next up, Loose Joints were from the badlands of south-east Essex, mashing up funky rhythms with riff-driven rockers and generally getting the audience off their seats on their feet. They even threw in their own take on the James Bond theme. Great tunes, inventive arrangements and loads of fun. I’m sure I’ll be seeing Loose Joints again.

So, what about Sister Witch? The songs are the work of David Ryder Prangley and Lux Lyall, guitarist and singer respectively and they were joined on stage by Belle Star and Anna Christina (drums and bass) from Lilygun and another two guitarists to create a very seventies-style line-up; three guitars, indeed. There’s more than a nod to seventies iconography as well, with DRP’s low-slung guitar and the routine of sharing Lux’s vocal mic à la Bowie and Ronson. And the glam references don’t stop there, some of the riffs could be T Rex at their noisiest and they’re interspersed some classic Stones-style interwoven guitars. And that’s before we get on to the studied ennui of Lux, sitting down to read a Zelda Fitzgerald biography mid-song. A bit theatrical maybe, but it’s all part of the show, and she really can sing, so it’s not just a distraction; it never harmed Bowie or the New York Dolls to introduce a bit of performance art. On a crowded stage there was always something interesting to watch; no way you’re going to ignore Sister Witch. Style yes: substance definitely.

As for Black Sixteen, well, not for me really. Two guitars, bass and drums knocking out muscular riffs and a singer who didn’t quite have the voice to compete. Maybe not helped by the minimal soundcheck, but they just weren’t doing it for me. Nice venue, but one little whinge on behalf of the photographers. Red stage lighting; just say no.

Have a look at some of the photos from the gig here and here.