Live Review: Satellite Tour in Rotherham, 08/02/14

Venue: Rotherham Trades Club
Date: 08/02/14

New music: new circuit. The concept of bringing new signed bands, starting on their musical journeys to smaller, intimate venues outside the usual big UK cities is a brilliant idea. Creativity can and should flourish anywhere.

by Charlie Barker Photography

by Charlie Barker Photography

There’s something very charming about going to see groups play in smaller venues. The interaction, the personal touches, the chats with the audience and the fact that there are no physical barriers between the act and their fans creates a very different atmosphere; one of trust and intimacy.

A confident young man, Fred Page takes to the stage with nothing but himself and his Martin acoustic guitar and sings his heart out to the few but enthralled, assembled audience. Chatting in between songs, he breaks through the inevitable uneasy ‘first act atmosphere’ and gets the crowd on his side, charming them with his soaring vocals on self-penned songs such as Concrete. It is never easy starting off the night and apparently un-phased by the task he left the crowd wanting more.

Eliza and the Bear were billed as the second act of the night and filled the small stage with six band members, including a pianist and trumpet player. Excited to hear what this unusual mix of instruments would produce, the crowd all got up to dance in front of the stage as they belted out their melodic, euphoric brand of pop/rock. Filled with a bursting energy that their records just don’t convey, they exceeded all expectations in coaxing the crowd out of their seats, appearing to forget themselves for their all too short set playing their new single It Gets Cold.

by Charlie Barker Photography

by Charlie Barker Photography

Rounding up what had been a great night of new music, Sons & Lovers were set to finish up. Back out of their seats the audience were right up at the front of the stage, singing along with their songs most notably Ghosts and Set My Heart. We’d had a folk/ acoustic vibe followed by a melodic rock sound and now dance/ electronic rock sound. All very different to one another but somehow blended perfectly.

by Charlie Barker Photography

by Charlie Barker Photography

They had indeed brought new music to a smaller part of the country that wouldn’t normally host gigs of that type. They had each played excellent sets, which were appreciated by all who attended.  There was an air of frustration that bands of such quality deserved a bigger audience, but there is defying the core reason behind the tour. There is no doubt these bands could fill out bigger venues, when going outside of the norm you’re going to face struggles. All at the Trades Club welcomed them with open arms and thoroughly enjoyed what they had to offer, I suspect next time we see any of these acts in any other setting it will be packed to the rafters.

View full gallery of live gig images: click here.

– Charlie Barker

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Yorkshire Unplugged is back in 2014

The search for the region’s finest live, acoustic act is on for 2014.

In it’s third year, Yorkshire Unplugged, organised by the Big Live Event and hosted at Sheffield’s Forum Cafe and Bar has supported new, original acoustic acts from all over the country.

Previous winners include Kid Conventional and The Velcro Teddybears, who are selected from hundreds of entries to perform live in several weekly heats running up the the final, which will be held this year on 10th April.

This year’s prizes include a music video, live session videos, photoshoots and website design for the winning act. Something ideal for any artist starting out in the music industry.

Get your entries in and read the competition terms and conditions here: www.yorkshire-unplugged.co.uk.

In Conversation with Pauline Black

About to embark upon their ‘Too Much Pressure’ UK tour, following on from their impressive, energetic headline set at Sheffield Inner City Music Festival: Tramlines in 2013, The Selecter are back in the Steel City on 2nd March at the o2 Academy. Iconic singer and front woman, Pauline Black talks to editor, Charlie Barker about life on the road after 35 years, her passions and influences.

Charlie: You’re celebrating 35 years in the business, what’s the key to keeping a group going and touring so long?

Pauline: I think obviously it helps if you’ve had some hits in the past, which we have and also I think that it helps if people are still enthusiastic about what you do. Both from the people who are in the band and also from the audience’s point of view. Fortunately a lot of people very fondly will remember The Selecter and even more fondly remember the two-tone movement and the two-tone tour that we did with The Specials and Madness and On My Radio still gets a lot of airplay.

C: When you have been that successful everyone still wants to hear those hits. Do you ever get tired of playing things like that?

P: I like performing so, that’s like saying to somebody in the theatre ‘Do you get tired of reading Shakespeare?’ I’m not trying to put On My Radio on a par with Shakespeare, but you find new things in it every time you do it and its a different audience that you’re doing it to. You can either be in a band where you’re one of the people just goes through the motions and you take no notice of the audience and its as much as you can do to get out of the tour bus and get on stage, or you can actually get involved in the moment and actually enjoy live performance. I enjoy live performance and certainly with Gaps Hendrickson the other singer in the band he enjoys it and there is nothing more that we like. In the two-tone genre of music, we’re the only band that has a male and female duo up front. I think people quite like that even though we maybe bend the rules of that a little. I think people generally like hearing people who look as though they are engaged in the sound and are a bit more varied than having just one singer up front doing their thing all the time.

 C: You certainly go for it in every performance I’ve seen you!

P: I don’t know of any other way. People think that I’m mad or something but I don’t know any other way of performing. Christ, if you’re going to go out on stage you’d better perform!

C: When you started out in music it was 1979, would you have ever believed back then that you’d still be doing it today?

P: No. You’re quite young I take it? Let’s go forward 35 years; do you think you’ll still be doing what you’re doing today?

C: Well life evolves so much and I think for me to keep enjoying what you’re doing whatever that may be, that’s always been my aim.

P: That’s exactly the same aim that we’ve got. When we finally got back together again in 2010 after a bit of a hiatus we didn’t just want to come back and say ‘Oh well, let’s go out and truck out the hits again. Let’s make some new records’ and we made two; Made in England and String Theory. We now have a touring set, we did up to 80 shows last year, with a set that embraced all of those records and it was probably our best year so far because it was both looking to the future and looking to the past, which I’ve thought is pretty much what we should be doing. We’re in a unique position to be able to do that. So it’s not like ‘Oh my god, in 1975 we’re doing exactly the same as we are now’. We’re not. I feel as though any band that has been going as long as us, you have to embrace your past and when these things come along; milestones like 30, 35 and 40 years its like being in a very long marriage, you’ve got to keep it fresh. We have to do something about making people interested in the band again, which isn’t just playing On My Radio but looking back at those past songs and renewing that for us, because there’s a lot of that material on the Too Much Pressure album that we don’t do anymore. Mainly due to, we’d be on stage for hours every time we played and that’s just not practical.

It’s really great to get back into rehearsal and look at those songs and say ‘Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. How can we make this fresh and what’s happening now that maybe wasn’t happening then?’. It is a new era and a different spin on a song and that’s what makes a classic.

C: You’re a very strong female front-woman and you’re very much one of a kind. Who are the people that have inspired you?

P: Even if I told you who inspired me to perform, you wouldn’t really see much of that in what I do or have decided to do. Its very much the way that I am. I got really, really tired of the people who preceded my generation and particularly for black women as well. There weren’t really too many ways either the old sequined dress or the ‘Mister Whippy’ hairdo or wig. I just didn’t see myself being like that on a stage. It just seemed a bit boring and a bit interchangeable. I felt that if you were going to do something, if you’re going to make the music memorable and different then obviously what you brought to the table in the way you looked and the persona that you had, maybe you should make yourself stand out in that way too. It’s part and parcel of the same thing. I was lucky enough to have grown up in times where there were some pretty strong women around. There’s a very famous photo that has myself, Poly Styrine, Debbie Harry from Blondie, Viv Albertine from The Slits, Siousie Sioux and Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders and we’re all just sitting there together, we’ve all got our clothes on just looking at the camera. That would be a complete and utter rarity for anything like that to be done today. If you took similar females in each of those facets of music and put them all together it would probably just be a who could have the biggest hair, have the most flesh on show and all of those kind of things. That’s a bit like saying presumably my music doesn’t mean that much? To my mind. In those days all of those women, I feel in their particular genre were great musicians and songwriters as well. Particularly Poly Styrine who sadly is no longer with us. I consider myself lucky to have grown up at the time I was in. When I came along and thought ‘F**k it, there’s rude boys. Why can’t there be Rude Girls?’ it was like I’d just invented a ‘Rude Girl’ in that way and it seemed to resonate with other people up and down the country and before you knew it every time you went out on tour there were lots of little clones of oneself hanging around. But that’s cool!

C: In a very male dominated industry and being a woman on your own surrounded by guys in the group, was that hard for you?

P: I think it was probably harder for them! No pun intended! I don’t know any other way, it’s not like I’d ever gone away and thought I’ve got to put together an all-female band.  The Body Snatchers were around, they were an all-female band and they were great and I love what Rhoda Dakar did. I think uppermost in my mind was to get out on stage and not knock over the furniture and sing and try and get my thoughts and feeling into the songs that I wrote.

C: Whilst taking a break from The Selecter you worked on your acting career. You must be quite busy right now but do you have any other acting projects in the pipeline or anything else we’re going to see from you personally?

P: No, I’ve spent the years between 1982 and 1992, pretty much full time acting or presenting stuff on TV. I had a show called Black On Black, which was like the first black magazine programme on TV and that had about 3 series. I just did a whole range of stuff acting-wise, every now and again I do bits and pieces on TV but I kinda got that out of my system. I like doing what I’m doing at the moment, which is a very hands-on musical career.

I like doing things for radio in particular that highlight the black experience or the black female experience or just female experience in this country. Whenever those opportunities arise it is just a great thing to be asked. I narrate loads of things sometimes on TV, normally a black artist from the past like Ella Fitzgerald or Sister Rosetta Tharpe or something like that because I’m always very happy to see that these women are being recognised and maybe I can bring something to the narration of it.

C: As one of the most influential artist in your field, who do you see as the future of British ska and reggae?

P: That would be really, really difficult. We’re taking out 3 bands. We’ve got 26 dates and we won’t have the same support band for all of them. So we thought we’d parcel it up between three separate bands. One of them is a reggae band called Talisman, who were around during the 80s when we were around and I still really fully respect them and they have really lovely music. Another one is called Stone Foundation, they’ve got a soul thing to them and they’re really young guys and the one who I really like and they’re really up and coming, they’re called By The Rivers. They are young guys who are into reggae and I really love that about them. They do really great shows and I’m looking forward to that. It is like all generations are there and will be joining us to celebrate this 35th year.

Live Review: Alistair McGowan in Sheffield, 13/10/13

Alistair McGowanVenue: Memorial Hall, Sheffield
Date: 13/10/13

Its a long way down from a major peak-time series on BBC1 to the Sheffield Memorial Hall, something not lost on the comedian and impressionist Alistair McGowan, who alluded to it at least three times.

Live comedy has never been more popular, a number of comedians regularly play arenas; McGowan comes over as a genuinely nice bloke, he’s very talented, naturally funny and his impressions are great, so why is he playing small venues?

Perhaps the problem is that, like his TV show, his material is good and often very good, but rarely great. Or maybe he just lost his audience, or failed to refresh and augment it.

It is ten years since the Bafta-winning The Big Impression and he didn’t tour between 2001 and 2009. As MacGowan himself pointed out, most of this audience were over the age of 40. Hopefully he is on his way back, on the basis of this show he deserves to be.

Alistair McGowan is very funny, he knows how to tell a joke, can be quite self-deprecating and makes some nice observations. He clearly works hard, he tried out some newly written material on us and made an effort to include local jokes and impressions; he took-off present and past Sheffield Wednesday managers Dave Jones and Howard Wilkinson. MacGowan made his name as a sports impressionist and this is still a significant part of his act, including imagining England manager Roy Hodgson becoming Fagin in Oliver.

He does a hilarious quickfire skit on other comedians, mimicking Dara O’Briain, Micky Flanagan, John Bishop, Jo Brand and others. For the most part, MacGowan eschews political comedy, but he drops in some funny impersonations, such as of Ed Milliband, and observations.  All of his impressions are done without props, a person was accurately and humorously conveyed through voice and mannerism.

I found this a laugh-out-loud funny show, if perhaps not roll-around-on-the-floor, side-splittingly so. It was a very enjoyable evening, I’d recommend his show and I’d go to see him again.

– Simon Benton

Album Review: Michael J Tinker – The Shores of Amerikay

Shores of AmerikayLabel: Regather Music
Released: June 2012

Sheffield folk singer/ songwriter Michael J Tinker has produced an excellent debut album, full of nice tunes and interesting lyrics.

This is a melodic, often mellow album. Tinker sings with a clear, tuneful voice and plays both tasteful acoustic and smokin’ cigar-box guitars! Some of the songs and tunes are traditional but most of them are written by Tinker himself.  He likes to tell stories, as traditional folk songs often do; he is a thoughtful and emotional writer, his Christian faith informs his writing and choice of songs and the album has a subtle spirituality.  There is sadness and tragedy in a number of songs, but as Tinker says of the characters in the traditional song House Carpenter, “they both die – it’s folk”.

In essence this is an English folk album, perhaps the purest examples of this are Shores Of Amerikay, Bonny Boy and House Carpenter, but nonetheless this feels like an album with plenty of variety.  Whilst most songs tend to the restrained, some such as Get Along Cindy, The Snowstorm and Belfast are quite jaunty.

Michael has worked with a number of well-known local folk luminaries, such as Jon Boden of Bellowhead, who described Tinker as “top notch, with real verve and lightness of touch”, Damien O’Kane, Tom Oakes, and Katriona Gilmore, who contributes mandolin, fiddle and some backing vocals to the album.

This is a work of quality and subtlety, it is a restful album, in the sense that it feels like something you might play late at night, with impeccable musicianship, good tunes and interesting lyrics.  There is heart and soul in these recordings.

I recommend you check Michael J Tinker out at http://www.michaeljtinker.com, or live at his monthly residency at the Red Deer in Sheffield city centre.

– Simon Benton