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A Magazine for Sheffield

Repomen / The Unthanks / King Capisce / Jagwar Mar

14 May
Queen’s Social Club

Modestly getting on with being secretly really good is what Repomen have been doing for 25 years now, making them reputedly the longest continuously existing band in Sheffield. To mark the occasion, they commandeered Queen’s Social Club and invited a bunch of other musicians who’ve played with them over the years to put in guest appearances. It was my honour to be one of them.

A venue laid out with tables and chairs and a 90-minute set of 25 songs, cataloguing their history in chronological order, was a statement of intent for a band that has always seemed most at home in a packed, sweating pub. But here’s what I mean about them being secretly great. In a noisy bar, they make a proper racket, and Denzil Watson morphs into a wild frontman, rampaging through the crowd, wielding the mic stand like a weapon of war.

In a civilised setting like this, much more is revealed. James Hughes' and Simon Tiller’s unflappable rhythm section switches deftly from punk garage to swampy grunge to 6/8 ballad. One minute guitarist Ric Bower is lurking in the shadows, the next he’s lurching and looming into view with a molotov cocktail of melody and feedback. Every song is vastly, uncategorisably different from the next, but they’re all catchy and full of details. And more than all of that, these stupendous pop songs are actually about things, whether it be Lou Reed, suicide or the war in Syria.

The choice of guests – drawn from acts as far apart as Sieben, Faerground Attractions, Soft Hearted Scientists, Cradleyard, Screaming Mimi and The Dead Comedians – is a testament to the diversity of Repomen’s music, their love of collaboration, and the affection other local musicians have for them. Oh, and the fact they’ve been around for bloody ages.

Andrew Wood


20 May
Crucible Studio

The between-song patter of most Unthanks gigs, amidst the light-hearted squabbles of the singing sisters and multi-instrumentalist Adrian McNally (husband to Rachel Unthank), often resembles a history lesson. In the best possible way, since The Unthanks pluck folk songs from the traditional canon with a particular eye for the macabre and morose. Admittedly, that's not hard. Morrissey's moping has got nothing on the kitchen sink misery that has provided folk tunes with their lyrical material for generations.

Part of the fun is explaining where such songs originated. This particular gig elongates that between-song scene-setting, as ethnomusicologist Simon Keegan-Phipps guides the conversation. Set up in The Crucible's tiny studio space, the audience surrounding them, the group are a little tentative in their performance and chat to begin with. But by the end of the first half – with the self-penned 'A Hymn For Syria', thankfully a genuinely moving piece of building voice and harmony, and not just unsubtle proselytising – they've found their usual mojo.

Said mojo is the interplay of Rachel and Becky Unthanks' voices, the former stronger and often taking the lead, the latter softer and husky. Isolated, their voices remain striking, but it's the harmonies which elevate the performances of these songs past something you'd hear in the back of a pub in the North East. Combined with McNally's piano playing – influenced, he attests, by modern composers like Steve Reich – and a requisite clog-dancing finale, the group ably fill the intimate space and plaster over some of the cracks apparent at the start.

McNally opines in the first half that folk music is all about storytelling, the crowd enraptured by the shared tale the Unthanks tell, culminating in a goosebump-raising rendition of Elvis Costello's ever-relevant 'Shipbuilding'.

Tom Baker


13 May
Yellow Arch

The first song King Capisce performed played like a story in sound, with a gentle start, a captivating middle and an explosive finish. At the end of it, the band revealed that it was one of their newest songs and wasn’t even entirely finished, but that they couldn’t resist playing it. This immediately built anticipation for the rest of the performance, an excellent expression and focus on quality music.

Despite being a band that hadn’t performed in some time, King Capisce played like veterans of their sound, which can’t be described as one genre. This doesn’t mean King Capisce struggle to blend several different sounds together. They are jazz with intention, melted into rock, at times bordering on electronica, touching the surfaces of trip hop.

King Capisce’s music comes in steady waves and much of the time goes on for far longer than expected, interrupting any standing ovation. Their combination of music is eclectic on the part of all five band members. Despite performing a wide spectrum of tracks, they were at their best when performing songs that felt like a slow but hard crawl that forced the audience to move.

What some musicians do with entirely electronic software, King Capisce do with live instruments, and the result is a clean sound that can be felt. Tonight, props have to be given to sound engineer Brett, who ensured that this already excellent band sounded crisp throughout, even better live than on record.

Having only started listening to King Capisce following their Never Spoken remix EP, released last year, and having never seen them live, I didn’t know what to expect. But the band’s performance at Yellow Arch was unique and a solid reminder of how good live performances can be, as well as encouragement for King Capisce to perform far more often.

Akeem Balogun


14-15 May
Firth Hall

With true 360° music – a step up from your surround sound hi-fi – you have no choice but to accept sound on its own terms. Sonic textures emerge from the front or approach from one side and then dance around the room, before dissipating or mutating into another sound behind you.

Last month Sheff Uni presented four free concerts showcasing the medium. On Saturday 14 May I caught a programme by Swedish composer Åke Parmerud, who oversaw the performance from a laptop in the middle of the audience. Parmerud's first piece, 'Crystal Counterpoint', was centred around glassy high-pitched sounds, capturing the sub-audible essence of a dinner party. Freed from the constraints of rhythm, he could stretch his tones like elastic or speed them up to exponentially escalating tempos, recreating the sound of a spinning pound coin just before it falls flat on its side.

'Grooves' seemed to explore textures and materials, specifically what you would hear if someone put a paper bag over your head. 'Growl!', the most playful piece by Parmerud, apparently sampled a Norwegian black metal vocalist, extracted from the source material and chopped up until his yelps and blood-curdling howls echoed around the head like a bad trip.

After the interval came music that could have been a foley sound track from a Transformers film, all power-up wooshes and metallic clangs. Eventually, a chugging four-four kick emerged from the menacing abstraction and suddenly we could have been in Tresor.

Sunday's program was subtler, but some pieces still surprised. James Surgenor's 'Twist and Turn' took us through a rainforest before ushering us into a celestial clearing, while 'Overture' by Alejandro Albornoz seemed to ask the audience if they could differentiate real human voices from electronic approximations, a line that became increasingly blurred as the piece progressed. The première of 'Ceramos' by Chris Bevan brought things to a dramatic close, with sudden crescendos that turned Firth Hall into a cathedral.

Sam Gregory


25 May

You know it’s going to be a good night when you walk into a live venue and the support DJ is playing A Guy Called Gerald’s 'Voodoo Ray'. The hypnotic, pulsating rhythms were a sign of what to expect.

Whilst it is almost a quarter of a century since Primal Scream’s meeting with Andrew Weatherall produced seminal indie-dance hybrid Screamadelica, Jagwar Ma executed their aural assault with the same kind of energy as those post acid house heroes. It's no coincidence that Weatherall remixed their debut single, ‘Come Save Me’, which made an appearance tonight.

The Antipodean psychedelic dance adventurers, who are no strangers to Sheffield, created a melting pot of sounds that drifted from one decade into another. Now located in the UK, the group made it well known they were glad to be back in the city, as lead vocalist Gabriel Winterfield exclaimed to the hypnotised crowd.

New material jostled with tracks from their debut album, Howlin’. Some tracks were so new that the trio were unsure of their actual titles. We were treated to James Brown stabs, break beats and acid house squeals, often building into some kind of techno-house crescendo.

It was a shame it was a wet and cold Wednesday night, as at times this felt more befitting of a Saturday night 11pm slot. Amidst the smoke and soft colours, Winterfield and bassist Jack Freeman worked the crowd from the front, with guitarist and synth player Jono Ma working tirelessly at the back, twiddling knobs and contorting the trippy sounds.

All too often bands that have complex production techniques and sequences can sound a little thin when heard live, but Jagwar Ma brought a heavy, rich, fat sound with them. The night was completed by a short encore, the anthemic ‘The Throw’, bringing a warm glow to the evening’s proceedings and a return back into the cold, wet streets of Sheffield.

Andrew Tattersall


Next article in issue 99

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