The Fun Lovin Criminals performed the entirety of 1996’s ‘Come Find Yourself’ to mark the twentieth, yes that’s right, twentieth anniversary of its release. The lights were dimmed, the air a thick mist of vapour pens and neon light. The Academy was packed for a night of highly enjoyable criminal activity.
Enter two smart mouthed, smartly dressed New Yorkers: Huey and Fast alongside long term friend and collaborator drumming Leicestertarian Frank Benbini. The trio are immensely likeable and from the moment they struck the first chords of Fun Lovin’ Criminals you could tell this was a celebration the band themselves would enjoy.
It’s not surprising that the strangers I spoke to all had JFK style reminisces of hearing this album during the 90s. From 6th Form common rooms and University dorms FLC were the antithesis of the shoe gazing angst infecting Brit-Pop and instead offered finger clicking coolness. With hints of hip-hop, jazz, rock and lounge lizard swagger- this was an album that had broad appeal. The inclusion of Tarantino dialogue also helps create the sense that Come Find Yourself is a post-modern snapshot of the 90s. Most importantly, it’s also a very good album delivered tonight effortlessly and confidently. Songs such as ‘The Grave and the Constant’ have deeply personal narratives of drug dealing and arrest; ‘King of New York’ even had the audience campaigning for the release of crime boss John Gotti (despite his death in prison in 2002). A more relatable narrative was Benbini’s story of working at the Spanish City in Whitley Bay. Small world.
Benbini’s drums were heavy and thumping, bass duties were shared over keyboards and bass-guitar by multi-instrumentalist Fast and Huey Morgan impressed as guitarist and storyteller.
Smiling throughout -jesting with swanny-whistles and put-downs laced with love, the band were grateful and thankful that their fans had stuck with them. In an earlier interview, Fast had assured me that they would be returning for an extended encore after a few shots of tequila. They didn’t disappoint with another collection of brilliant songs such as ‘Korean Bodega’ and ‘Loco.’
I forgot how much I loved Fun Lovin Criminals. It’s glad to see them back on stage with a new album on the way. I can definitely get with that.
This week I caught up with Fast, Fun Lovin Criminals’ co-founder and co-writer, to find out about their upcoming tour and their beginnings in New York.
Thank you so much for giving up your time to talk to me. I listened to Come Find Yourself as a teenager and I immediately felt ten times cooler for having listened to it. That album exudes character and attitude.
Well thank you, we’re so proud we can still be talking about it and playing those songs 20 years later!
The album was immensely popular in the UK on its release. Why do you think an album, so far removed from the strumming angst of Brit-pop youth culture, proved so popular?
We just did our own thing and they used to call it New York City alternative which still isn’t really accurate but Huey and I grew up loving English music- me the electronic stuff and he loved rock. We had a common ground with hip-hop but we’d have songs with screaming guitar solos in too. We weren’t confined to rules. People were more open to different genres of music mixed together whereas in America it was harder because you needed Radio to get your music out there so having a hip-hop song with a guitar solo in was like ‘What? you can’t have a rock song with rapping in it! How do we market that?!’ Well we had more success overseas -in particular with Radio 1 during its last days of being station that played new music, not that same old shit and commercial stuff you hear there now. It’s so great that 20 years later we’re still out playing these songs to the fans, we’re super lucky and grateful that the fans are still willing to fork out.
We weren’t confined to rules. People were more open to different genres of music mixed together whereas in America it was harder because you needed Radio to get your music out there
For me it captures the sound of New York. The laid back chilled vibe, the brass and wah guitar and Huey’s distinctive accent and delivery. What aspects of the music are you most proud of?
Well with Fun Lovin Criminals we think of the music like a puzzle you know and you get all these influences coming in from music and film. For me it’s the sampling- I really grew as a musician looking at sampling as an art form- distorting the waves, using effects and sampling, pitch-bending and putting turntables out of phase so you just get the drum tracks or whatever. It used to be about finding some really interesting obscure sounds but these days guys are just doing stuff in 5 minutes on a laptop on the beach and some of that stuff’s cool but I can TELL it’s been rushed- there’s no real thought into it. For me, amazing timeless creation takes time whether it’s the birth of a baby or the production of a film. Interstellar struck a nerve- so much thought and time went into that. Hateful 8, a great film- as much as I might have some issues with the language for a younger audience, you can tell he’s been working on that for years and as much as I love Ridley Scott and Bladerunner, I think the turnaround for the Martian was like a year and it shows. Whatever it is… it takes time. You have to slow down, stay in the moment and be creative.
I read somewhere that you’ve opened for Korn? That seems like an odd match! Starting out, how hard was it finding audiences and mainstream exposure when musically you didn’t really fall into any specific musical genre. Or did that work to your advantage?
We’ve always been really lucky with EMI Chrysalis, who spent a shit load of money on us, and a great agent so we’ve we played with some great acts like Wu Tang Clan, Pinkpop with The Fugees, played infront of 100,00 people at Glastonbury it’s been incredible- we’re just guys from New York playing our own thing. It was awesome and we were loving it! We got very very lucky. That’s why now, no offense to support bands- we’re not playing with one on this tour- we wanted to show clips from old tour footage and films that inspired us- which unfortunately due to copyright issues we’ve had to change. So now we’re gonna play two sets- play the album from start to finish- have a 10 minute break do some tequila shots then get back out there.
we’re gonna play two sets- play the album from start to finish- have a 10 minute break do some tequila shots then get back out there
That’s great there are so many songs on 100% Columbian which I’d love to hear.
Ah thank you I feel like that’s the album where I grew as a musician.
Well, you play keyboards, trumpet and bass- I love the bass grooves on this album, they have a great tempo and hypnotic repetition to them- I love the riff on I Can’t Get With That. Everything seems to come from the hips with that line.
I play a lot of the bass on keyboards with pedals for that deep bass thump. I love the bass sounds from British electro bands like Depeche Mode, Huey was into British bands like Zeppelin but for me I loved the electronic music. When recording we just kind of looked at each other to see who would record bass so Huey taught me bass guitar. That’s why the lines are so simple!
But they really work- they’re great- they really serve the track.
Thank you man –it’s not about technique with me it’s the sound, the feeling of the bass that deep thump.
You’ve lived in London for a while now how’s that going?
Well I hear New York is expecting a lot of snow and my daughter has missed that- we don’t really get it in London so we have to snowboard over in Milton Keynes. But, you know, snow is snow! I bet it’s cold in Newcastle, our first merchandise manager was a Geordie, he made us T-Shirts to wear saying Fun Lovin’ Geordies! We’ve had some great times up in Newcastle.
The album is full of narrative and story can you give us a little insight into the track Grave and the Constant- I have memories of house parties singing ‘we’re up to no good with no place to go but down’ What a line!
Lots of songs are fun and you know they’re tongue in cheek but some tracks really deal with some serious issues. Huey had to grow up fast man- I was blessed when I was young I could act like a kid- I STILL act like a kid and my wife hates that but Huey had it hard and has some real shit to deal with- he’s a story teller but it’s all real.
Finally, we’ve lost some incredible artists recently- If you could pick a front-man for your heavenly super-group line-up who would it be and why?
It has to be Bob Marley man, because Bob’s THE man!
Good luck on your tour. I’ll see you in Newcastle on the 5th Feb. I’ll be at the front up to no good!
As a teen during the 90s I unashamedly sported flares and a Jamiroquai T-shirt. My favourite video game was Interstate ‘76 where I would play the role of a moustachioed 70s detective taking down pimps and perps in my American muscle car. Somehow, funk was back and it was cool to dance again; I’d picked up the bass and suddenly I was Larry Graham.
My friends all hated me.
I became the kind of annoying twat that would put a slap bass solo in the middle of Smells Like Teen Spirit. I wasn’t grimacing my way down the street to the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. I was high-fiving my way to the tune of Starsky and Hutch.
I hadn’t been to Hoochie Coochie- I’d always wanted to but I imagined it was an extremely commercialised club with dim lights and expensive drinks. I have to say I was gladly mistaken. Such a warm and friendly place. It was the perfect place to see the James Taylor Quartet- a tightly packed audience moving and swinging to the funky music. I even felt the part as I limped in (almost pimp-like but not quite) on a walking stick like a ginger Huggy Bear. The staff at Hoochie Coochie were superb. They found me a seat and checked I was OK all night as I nursed my football injury. Top Marks Hoochie Coochie.
JTQ themselves did not disappoint either. James Taylor- no not that one, recently announced a new project to blend jazz and classical music so I wasn’t sure what kind of set we were going to get. I shouldn’t have feared- this was as groovy and as hip as I could’ve hoped for. Taylor’s Hammond organ is impressively percussive and melodic and he leads the group with flair and pizzazz. That signature Hammond sound is incredible live- as it fills the room it has an undeniable charm. Taylor himself is a showman and a band leader- conducting the drums, guitar and bass with nods and flourishes- reminding me a little of the showmanship of Herbie Hancock . All of the show was instrumental aside from a few chants and hum-alongs from the audience; we were lost in the groove and musicianship. Adam Betts on drums was magnificent. Not only was he bang-on tight and technically gifted but he was really hitting those beats hard giving the floating jazz some real punch and bite- the kind of funk-drumming you would hear from a legend like Clyde Stubblefield.
The band played a number of tracks from albums such as 1998’s Wait a Minute and treated the audience to some absolutely corking covers- a personal highlight amongst Green Onions was their version of The Meters Funky Miracle one of my all-time favourite Meters tracks. The band was locked in and tight and- as you would expect, rehearsed and full of confidence. Bass player Andrew McKinney flickered and fluttered around the fret-board with style and groove on a beautiful Fender Precision; guitarist Chris Montague played with the sweetest clean jazz sound and most pleasingly of all- they all looked like they enjoyed every minute of their performance. The audience certainly did.
For my final treat of the night they played the Starsky and Hutch theme tune. I would’ve strutted out of the place feeling like a real badass- if only I could’ve walked properly.
Come with me. Put down what you’re doing and walk out of the door. I’ll be there, waiting for you like always. Gaze into my loving eyes. Take my hand and walk with me away from home, past the stuttering amber lights. Ignore the sharp stones that stick into your bare feet, piercing and pricking. Concentrate instead on my tender touch and the rhythm of our steps: a wedding march down a barren tarmac aisle. Smile but say no words. Let the bleeding light of the pallid moon wash over you. I’ll lift you into the field. Your skin will scratch and scrape cruelly though the rows of corn but take no heed. Follow me into the blackness of the old cottage. Let the darkness swallow you whole. Feel my breath on your neck; like a winter wind its hiss will caress you. Feel the cadence of your shivering heart echo in the emptiness. Taste the soft chill of my kiss on your trembling lips. You may hold me now. Unveil yourself and press your body against mine. I will cloak you delicately in my arms and lay you on the dirt. You may touch my ashen skin and wipe the tears from my hollow eyes. Give yourself to me. I will seal our vows with a kiss on your neck: a red ring as a token of my love.
And when you wake in the morning you will love me and know it is time to sleep.
The genius of Lanterns on The Lake is that they can be simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. Joyous yet melancholy. They can juxtapose thrashing crescendos with moments of serene tranquillity. You’ll never know why one minute you’re punching the air with elation and the next you’re embracing your loved ones with tears rolling down your face.
Opening track Of Dust and Matter embodies this . Like a funeral march, the kick-drum thuds like a heart-beat clouded in static. Layers of guitars swell and drift sweetly. Hazel Wilde’s soft vocal at one moment exposed and defenceless and then the next delivered with Siouxsie Sioux-esque venom.
This dichotomy of strength and frailty runs throughout this record and it can be heard in the structure of the tracks and the expression in the delivery. Many songs float with Paul Gregory’s ghostly guitars such as in Stall Them; he’s developed a guitar style that has a beautiful ethereal quality. Gregory can make his guitar sing like an electric orchestra with layer upon layer of rhythms and effects that equally give space for the vocal melodies. From a musical point of view- what exceptional players and indeed listeners they all are- each part supports another. This is a band that has the perfect blend of discipline and invention.
Lanterns’ first single from this collection is Faultlines -a song driven by Allan’s bass guitar and Ketteringham’s drums. This song has been deservedly praised by Radio 6’s Steve Lamacq. It swells with crescendos and frays beautifully into almost silence. I’ve been repeating the phrase ‘you are’ with almost semantic analysis since I first heard the track. Yes I am. Profoundly and wonderfully true.
Send Me Home is the track that seemed to crack my shell the deepest. A short tender ballad that waltzes and yearns. Wilde’s lyrics, in this song particularly but throughout this record, are heartfelt and at times bruised but always beautiful to hear.
The most interesting track on the record is Stepping Down featuring samples that seem to flicker and flash rhythmically. This is a very visually evocative track with a dream-like quality. Aside from occasional and familiar bursts of guitar and piano, the poly-choral vocal feels like the only familiar sound from the preceding tracks. Here Wilde’s celestial voice contrasts with the percussive pulse that underpins and threatens.
The power of the songs can be most keenly felt when listening alone. Every listen provoked some kind of genuine cathartic and emotional response that I just wouldn’t have experienced as part of a group. Perhaps I just need some more sensitive friends!
Lanterns on the Lake are a wonderful band that deserves to be cherished.
Beings is a terrific album; beauty permeates it with fragility and force.
Marcus Miller and his band performed the majority of his new album Afrodeezia at Gateshead’s wonderful Sage on Wednesday night. And whilst a barmy night on the Tyne in October is a continent away from the heat of the African plains there was enough energy on stage and warmth from the audience to ensure the spirit of Africa remained present.
Much like the album, the set the band performed was designed to reflect Miller’s experiences as ambassador for peace for UNESCO. Miller travelled the route of the slave trade from Africa through the Caribbean, Brazil and on to the American Delta and aimed with this collection of songs to take the audience the same musical and spiritual journey. The tracks on the album were co-written with musicians from these regions and aimed to reflect the anguish of the slave experience but also celebrate the cultures that endured the ordeal. Heavy stuff but wonderfully encapsulated through the musicianship and the expression in the delivery on show.
The first song they played was Hylife, also the first track on the album and possible the most commercial. It showcases Miller’s trade mark double thumb slap bass style and it bounced cheerfully and rhythmically against rich jazz piano chords and percussive African drumming. Whilst the bass riff sat solid and steady with the drums it allowed the brass to dance and float in the upper registers of the mix; it was an absolute joy to hear the improvisation of saxophonist Alex Han and Marquis Hill on trumpet.
B’s River was the second track which also mirrors the album and features Miller playing a Gimbri, perhaps a spiritual ancestor to the bass guitar- a boxy African stringed instrument that opened the track and is then replaced by Miller’s customary Fender Jazz. However, this time Miller took on lead melody duties with the bass guitar and which the left hand of pianist Brett Williams maintained the solid structure for Miller to play around. This song had some beautiful rhythms but felt more like a jazz track than anything evoking traditional African of South American influence.
I spent the night trying to tap out time signatures and Calypso rhythms on my thigh and counting in vain to see how many fingers Miller actually had on his hands. I’m not used to seeing jazz live so seeing the way the musicians maintained concentration and discipline as well as being absolutely on fire when their parts arrived was equally inspiring and impressive. My favourite track of the night was the cover of Papa was a Rolling Stone. Miller himself joked that such a cool bass line requires discipline to play:
‘I was told as a twelve year old learning the bass part “Don’t play in the spaces”. Well, now I’ve got my own band I can do what I want!’
Most of what’s heard tonight is instrumental. The nature of Miller’s jazz means that his music is accessible across languages and cultures. It also means however that the tracks void of vocals tend to lose some of the African quality most associated with this type of music: the poly-choral chanting or floating gospel melodies that carried some of the most powerful lyrics of blues. But whilst the music heard lacks lyrical expression the audience is treated to some quite incredible solo work from Miller, Williams, Han, Hill and guitarist Adam Agati. They challenged each other on stage and responded and reacted with glee. There was expression in every note. It was incredible to hear and lovely to see
The show was fantastic. The musical talent on stage was some of the best I’ve heard. I hoped and expected as much from the world’s most hugely successful living jazz musician and composer.
Bitch: Don’t Let Me Die! is the eleventh studio album from Detroit’s Electric Six. They are fronted by the colourful and cartoonish Dick Valentine and probably best known for bombastic rock tracks Danger! High Voltage! and Gay Bar. Electric Six is a band that embraces cliché and wears it like a badge of honour.
Although the band hasn’t really entered collective consciousness since a hamster suggestively scuttled across our screens, Electric Six have been releasing a steady stream of albums. This is to say that since shocking the world with the cock rock gimmick in the early 2000s, Electric Six haven’t been able to replicate the joke.
Evident in Bitch! Don’t Let Me Die! are all the motifs from the cock-rock handbook: sexually boastful lyrics containing phallic imagery; loud, rhythmically insistent guitars, built around techniques of arousal and release. The lyrics are arrogant and misogynistic but the exact words are less important than the vocal style involved, the shrill shouting and screaming of Dick Valentine is equal parts impressive and trope.
Despite this, many of the tracks here are irritatingly likeable because occasionally the band does hit the mark and produce blistering guitar driven rock songs that sound actually cool. The album is blessed by guitarists Da Ve and Johnny Na$hinal – in particular the face melting guitar solo in When Cowboys File For Divorce.
And there are some good tracks too. Opening gambit Drone Strikes is the perfect album opener. Valentine, cocks an eyebrow and snarls through every syllable. The guitar riff sits repetitively and defiantly against the hammering thumping drums. It all makes sense here. The most infectious of the songs is the disco-esque and danceable Roulette which evokes memories of Danger! but sadly never really develops to be an Electric Six classic.
Clearly talented musicians and purposeful performers it’s a shame many of the tracks here are delivered like parodies instead of homages to obvious influences such as KISS and Black Sabbath.
Groups such as The Darkness and Tenacious D have realised the line is fine and joke is an old one.
A band to see live I think but not enough depth or variety to maintain my attention or interest in this collection of songs.
As the sun threatens to poke its shiny little face from behind the clouds, here comes a summertime album so summery it has me scraping last year’s leavings from the barbeque in my filthy festival footwear.
Carbonised cow carcass aside, Hot Chip will likely cement their status as the go-to electro- pop-house- dance act for music festivals this summer with the inevitable success of their new album Why Make Sense?. With performances due at Glastonbury, T- in the Park and Lollapalooza, expect to see Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe presenting a highlight reel of irritatingly good looking young people bopping away in the dark to some immensely danceable beats.
This latest release Why Make Sense? is a much more chilled affair than 2008’s Made in the Dark or 2012’s In Our Heads. In fact, it’s darker. It still retains a distinctive Hot Chip sound but tonally and lyrically, this album feels much more introspective. Alexis Taylor has such a distinctive and delicate voice that the melancholy is tangible in songs such as Dark Night: the sadness lifted by a hopeful major key change.
The first single to be lifted is Huarache Lights, a pulsating mid-tempo floor shaker that feels like the most familiar of the new tracks. From here on in we have hints of 70s disco with the clavinet led Started Right. Or the falsetto styled, Timberlake-esque Love is The Future interjected with a rap from De La Soul’s very own Pos. The anthemic stand out track is album closer Why Make Sense? staccato crescendos lifting and soaring. This is a summer album, but the sun is setting: a golden glow of red twilight skies.
Taylor excels on So Much Further to Go which is tender and soft. It’s practically a ballad however- not what I expected at all. Whilst there certainly seems to be a cathartic process at work here Taylor’s voice is incredibly engaging and induced a kind of empathy from my second and third listen.
I say second and third because my initial expectations of the album were slightly different. Promotional photos of Hot Chip suggested a Kraftwerk style post-punk sparseness and the pastel pink of the album cover evokes an inverted image of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasure cover art. Furthermore the album title is a bit close to Talking Head’s Stop Making Sense don’t you think? Although the album doesn’t share its intensity, tempo or angular riffs it does feel powerful. We still have deep beats and catchy pop choruses. Whilst the album is interesting and engaging it feels almost, if you can excuse the pun, too laid back to excite. I don’t think that’s the intention here however.
Mostly moogs and micro-korgs, big bass-synths and break-beats, this is a beautifully produced and thoughtfully crafted record. This is largely due to the Sarah Jones’ live drum kit which blesses the synthetic ambience with an organic soul. This and Taylor’s often humorous often tragic song-writing show how much this band has grown.
It’s a good album but not the one I expected. And that’s just what I like in a band.
Funk is a peculiar word isn’t it? It sounds so very much like another word…
That soft and sensual initial consonant ‘fff’ that whispers from your lips followed by the ‘Uh’ . Say ‘uh’ a few times. Go on. Filthy. Then that plosive and percussive ‘nk’, like a snare drum punctuating the end of the word. Or the slap of bodies. Like erotic onomatopoeia. Ooh it’s so dirty.
That’s the kind of funk George Clinton and Paliament/ Funkadelic pimped to us on Friday night.
Whereas James Brown ‘s funk will drag you along with speed and intensity, keeping you on your dancing toes with fluttering 16th rhythms and percussive guitars- Clinton slows it doooown so you feel the grooves groinally. Yeah, that’s a word. It’s a type of funk that aims to move you as well as your feet. Musically and lyrically P-Funk is full of a sexual imagery and energy that permeates their sound. A sound that has you moving your hips in ways you never knew you could.
This current generation of the P-Funk mob are sixteen strong, led by seventy three year old Grandfather of funk Clinton who orchestrates the jams and conducts the audience- a showman who laps up applause and redirects the appreciation to his musical entourage. Whilst he takes centre stage on some tracks- lead vocals are shared amongst the band to the point where Clinton is at times peripheral but at the same time an omnipresent sprite in tweed. Part of Clinton’s genius is that he surrounds himself with energetic musicians, young and old bringing fresh new interpretations to the signature P-Funk sound. There’s a wonderful quote in his new autobiography where Clinton sums this up: “(as an artist) I knew my limits. I knew what I couldn’t do. I couldn’t play an instrument. I couldn’t sing as well as some and I couldn’t arrange as well as some others. But I could see the whole picture from altitude, and that let me land the planes”.
The new tracks performed tonight from ‘First Y’all Gotta Shake the Gate’ are decent and it’s certainly a family affair tonight with Clinton’s grandchildren serving as vocalists in the poly-choral line-up: the star of which is rapper Tra’zae Clinton who took centre stage forNot Your Average Rapper. The track Get Low is tight and punchy: pure hip-hop in which the family members reference ‘Navigating the Mothership’ and later ‘The funk is in my DNA’.
The older songs were often delivered as new arrangements and at times some numbers in the set were performed as medleys which I found a little off putting. There’s no denying, however, the quality and diversity of these songs. The horn section was blistering, the bass guitar a squelching syncopated beast whose bottom end moved many a bottom. Disco classic Flash Light was quite rightly accompanied by Sir NoseD’Voidoffunk (a personified fictional disco villain pimp in Clinton’s Sci-Fi mythology who finds The Funk and therefore his soul… listen, just Google him will you- he spent half the night grinding against a woman from Shields on stage ) One Nation Under A Groove had the dance floor shaking. Atomic Dog had the crowd Bow Wow Wow Yippee oh Yippee yay..ing. My personal highlights were when guitar heroes DeWayne ‘Blackbird’McKnight, Richard ‘Ricky’ Rouse and Garrett Shider shredded Red Hot Momma and then brought a tear to my eye with the epic Maggot Brain as Clinton waved to the enraptured Newcastle crowd. We laughed, we screamed and we danced as well as a room full of white folk can to funk music.
It was an absolute privilege to see George Clinton play tonight. An eclectic and eccentric writer, performer and producer whose influence has cast a psychedelic rainbow throughout rock, hip-hop, soul and funk for decades. Despite succumbing to the o2 Academy’s ridiculous ten o’clock curfew we stayed and bade farewell to our heroes as the stage lights were unceremoniously killed. The band waved, chatted, celebrated and embraced as the drums and bass played on relentlessly and defiantly. We couldn’t leave- the party was just getting started-we were the Geordie Nation Under a Groove.
It must be a strange experience for the legendary Blockheads– incredibly talented musicians in their own right, to perform without their close friend and iconic mouthpiece Ian Dury. After all, it’s his lyrics they’re delivering- his bitterness, his joy, and his working class experiences often spoken to the listener like words from a humorously tragic secret diary. He was the soul of their music. How do you replace that or replicate it? Well of course the answer is you can’t. What The Blockheads attempt to do however is make sure that he is celebrated through their music. Not once was he mentioned on stage but his cheeky chutzpah was infused and ingrained in all they did. And whilst current front man Derek Hussey didn’t deliver the lines with the same venomous velocity or satirical sadness there was enough observational drawl in his cool cockney twang to adequately support the music and engage the expectant audience.
Much of their music tonight is brilliant. There are a range of influences within their songs that veers across musical styles- from two tone ska, dancehall funk, jazz, rock and roll, balladry to punk. And yet despite this, the old songs feel seamlessly cohesive and exciting. Technically, The Blockheads deliver within the confines of the song and through extended instrumental sections- significant parts of their live performance that never felt laboured or contrived. The soloists surprised their fellow band members with improvised hints of Coltrane and Hendrix – challenging each other’s musicianship with ‘question and answer’ lines. Despite the band’s musical brilliance, however, it felt like the vocals were merely supporting the epic instrumental sections: lyrically they’re witty and engaging but I was acutely aware of Dury’s absence.
I also found it unusual that they decided to open with a new track called Look the Other Way from their most recent release Same Horse Different Jockey. It almost felt like an anti-climax- much of the audience anticipating something from the back catalogue to kick the evening off. I was also slightly disappointed that it took current drummer Dave Roberts so long to make eye contact with Watt Roy who was eagerly trying to incite some psychic musical connection amongst the rhythm section. There was a distinct hint of ‘session player’- technically gifted but delivered with no real passion until later in the set when suddenly he smiled and he looked like he was in the band again. It lifted the whole band.
Despite this, the audience, including myself, danced throughout and sang along to every hook-line and ‘Oi Oi’ that was thrown at us. Songs such as Wake up and Make Love to Me, Hit me with Your Rhythm Stick, What A Waste, Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 3) and Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll are New Wave classics that lit up Hall Two of the Sage. The songs are great and the musicianship is excellent but it was the juxtaposition of Dury’s darkness with the dance grooves that made Ian Dury and The Blockheads so captivating and enthralling. The grooves are there but it is the lack of anger and bite in the vocal delivery that is lacking in tonight’s performance.
Most pleasing to me is that Norman Watt Roy, front and centre of the stage, drives the band with some of the best bass playing you will hear. As a fellow bass player, he is one of my heroes. Percussively and melodically he leads the band and many of their tracks sound like they’ve been written ‘bass up’; his grooves underpin Turnbull and Jankel’s disciplined rhythmic guitars, patiently waiting to serve up some beautiful solos when the song allowed. Watt Roy is a legend- he still performs as if every note is important. His line in Hit me With Your Rhythm Stick is technically and musically magnificent. He hasn’t lost the chops or the stamina and his passion for performing still exudes from the stage. If anyone embodies ‘funk-punk’ it’s him. I really enjoyed the gig; I smiled and wiggled throughout and I felt inspired after watching and listening to those bass lines.