Tombed Visions

11 December
Fuel Café

When there is a musical event that will feature David McLean and Tombed Visions Records, it’s an enticing proposition in its own right. When the city centre is swamped with the once-a-year people who think wearing a Christmas jumper is enough to justify immediate service from heavily overworked bar staff, nipping into the suburbs to escape the mayhem is a welcome retreat. So congrats to Fuel Café, which seems to have slipped into my subconscious by default with five gigs in as many weeks. Judging by the large crowd, this opinion isn’t mine alone.

For the four performing bands, microphones are surplus to requirements. There wasn't a single vocalist or three-minute love song. Instead, it was an enticing exhibition of musical dexterity allied to ability and intricacy.

First up were Yerba Mansa, the duo of Edwin Stevens and Andrew Cheetham who contribute considerably more during the course of the evening. Delivering a blistering set that dragged you into hypnotic rhythms, some of which emanated from the pulsating drumming, others from the snagging guitar, they disregarded the adage that opening bands are crap.

During the evening, guitars will be scraped along a wall, rubbed across a judiciously placed table and have their strings set on fire. A saxophone will be made to squeal, not in the way of a solo bridge by Spandau Ballet, but in a more primeval, visceral manner by David McLean. All the while the swelling crowd grows louder in their appreciation.

Akke Phallus Duo was formed by Jon Marshall and Ben Morris. Stood on opposite sides of the floor and hemmed in by the audience, they create a noise wall, engineered with the use of foot pedals, effect boards and a cassette tape recorder evoking the 1970s home taping trend.

By 11pm, one drum kit has been disassembled and a different setup knitted together. Another saxophone has been purged, this time by Colin Webster, and a double bass has been uncovered and tested by Otto Willberg. This incongruous line-up is supplemented with a guitarist, David Birchall, who has as tendency towards playing on his lap rather than hanging around his shoulders. Cheetham completed the line-up with his second appearance on drums.

A fiery intensity built up as double bass strings were crossed with a quickly shredding violin bow, before subtlety returned in the shape of gently caressed drum skins, all a prelude to the next surge of momentum.

Ged Camera

Photo by Ged Camera.

Background image: Zen by Alison Lambert.

New Model Army

5 December

For those not familiar with Bradford’s New Model Army and their rich history, one of the band’s gigs can initially seem a strange experience. Formed in 1980 and remaining fiercely independent ever since, the band have amassed an intensely loyal fan following, dubbed ‘The Family’, some of whom continue to follow the band on tour indefinitely. Their criminally underrated lyricist and frontman Justin Sullivan has remained the band’s sole constant member since their inception, all the while maintaining an impressively consistent quality to their output.

When I suggest that their concerts may be somewhat unusual, I do so because their audience is mainly comprised of brilliantly devoted super-fans, inked with the band’s lyrics and imagery, singing every word and totally and utterly immersed in the experience.

Their recent date at Manchester Academy is now the third New Model Army gig I’ve attended in roughly eight years and, whilst the set list was equally good, if not better, than both previous gigs, with the music louder and in a more acoustically appropriate venue, it is still the crowd that I find most fascinating.

A genuine micro-community complete with its own dances, rituals and aesthetics comes together for six hours to watch the band, including a catch-up at the pub, before disbanding to drive home and commute the next morning. Repeat as and when the band comes to town.

Alternating seamlessly between acidic folk ballads and intensely charged post-punk, Sullivan’s longstanding political focus was highlighted during the concert’s centrepiece. A spoken word piece concerning refugees, telling of a complex system of morals, stunned the crowd into silence. Its relevance in terms of current affairs cast an eerie tension across the Academy.

Although I have seen them three times now, I don’t actively follow the band’s releases or even listen to them regularly. But this isn’t the element that brings me back to their live show. The audience, with you as a member, is the defining feature of a New Model Army gig. On this night they were, as usual, on top form.

Kristofer Thomas

Naked Lights

20 December

“I wrote this song on the Megabus,” utters the lead singer of a band whose name I think is The Frozen Ligers. That name confusion is due to no mention of the band on the event listing or in the venue and didn’t announce their presence on stage.

“It’s not as though we've just met up today,” he continues. Since he still needs the lyric sheets in his hand to get him through the set, their first musical union possibly wasn’t too much further in the past.

‘Quasar’, the second to last song he’s assisted with, is probably the best of a set that included an impromptu pants-dropping routine. Learning to play a bassoon takes some effort and they encourage a small crowd, who seem to be their mates, to dance to a series of funk-infused covers, including a memorable rendition of a Grandmaster Flash song. Make of it what you want, but the three-piece wore large smiles on their faces and injected some light humour into a dank night.

Who would want to undertake an eight-hour journey at Christmas time? Could it be someone who really loves their family or someone who dislikes them and wants to get away? Either way, the four members of The Naked Lights seemed to have organised another Megabus to bring 20 of their mates up from Cornwall. It’s a small crowd, but allows them plenty of room to dance and bounce around to a series of well-constructed songs that draw from the well of poppy, upbeat indie sounds.

The all-male setup harmonises well as they frequently change vocalists to suit the lyrical tone, one of which includes the wonderful line, “I went to the supermarket and cried in aisle five”.

They have a song indicating a hatred of Christmas, all because of a broken heart, belying its cheery, vibrant momentum. Ho, ho, ho?

Ged Camera

Photo by Ged Camera.

Richard Lomax

29 November
Kings Arms

It all started in such a relaxed manner before ascending into a sex and swearing festival.

The word jazz can divide music listeners faster than a Black Friday shopping experience. Gig goers who avoid the ‘jazz influenced’ tag, may have passed over the opportunity to hear Ben Playford and his two colleagues, but Kings Arms’ blacked-out upper portion contributes to an ideal ambience for the trio, featuring Tim Williams on double bass and Aden Peets on drums alongside Playford, who delivered a warm, subtle opening.

The minimal stage lighting of three small, floor-level lights, combined with flickering tabletop candles to provide the backdrop for Livvo, aka David Liversidge, a one-man electronic orchestra. Greatly assisted by Buttercup Syrup to overcome his lurgy, the result was a glossier, more anthemic sound, laden with radio-friendly noise.

Then we got to the sex bit. Avital Raz is a storyteller addressing both the amusing and disturbing. Sitting on a chair with a guitar on her lap, the easygoing atmosphere belied her dark lyrical tone, from a girl “who laughs like a river” to “an ugly sister [who] picks hairs from her moles, but she’s a good fuck”.

Born in Jerusalem, Raz regales about a chance drunken sexual encounter on the streets of Edinburgh, described as her contribution to the Israeli-Palestine peace efforts. There is a raw fascination in knowing where the story will lead you, but when you get there, a twist in the tale is inevitable. I don’t remember Joan Baez being that personal.

Taking things in a different, reverb-heavy direction are Big Safari. Fusing a liberal sprinkling of The Cramps, filtered through ‘surf’ and mixed with a dash of ‘Sprit In The Sky’, the result was an extremely vibrant, enjoyably messy squall of noise.

The Winter Project used the C-word. It was only November and someone had the temerity to mention Christmas. Luckily they redeemed themselves via their music, a lush, languid affair containing nagging chords, tinted with Eastern influences and laidback vibes.

Closing the event was Richard Lomax And The Tontine, whose new single, ‘I Cycle’, is premiered with our featured interview in this issue. Bus timetables restricted me to only a couple of numbers, but the layered quality of the songs and tight delivery lived up to the high benchmark set at A Carefully Planned Festival in October.

Ged Camera

Photo of Avital Raz by Ged Camera.