Welcome breaks from busy weeks

The end of March and the beginning of April was a very busy time for me. Under pressure to organise some work experience for my course, I had something arranged only to see that fall through. A frantic day of sending emails off to various places looked to have led nowhere when most ignored and two rejected me. Fortunately, The Cricketer, who had initially rejected me, got back to say they were happy to have me on board.

Off I went to London, to experience 2 weeks unlike any I have had before. The outcome was that I got something printed in their magazine (go buy it!), but more importantly, I’d had a very good time. In April, I headed over to Manchester to look after my Mum’s cats while she was in NY and Washington and required that time to catch up on my Easter Holiday work, which I couldn’t do while in London.

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It’s not like it stops there either, for this month is busy, busy, busy. The vast majority of my university work is due in on the 13th May, and then on the 14th I am the best man for my good friend Josh on his wedding day. With preparation, such as the speech (written – just needs practising and amending), to do for that – it’s unlikely I’ll be writing many blogs. I apologise sincerely for that, and promise to get back on the wagon once the wedding, and uni, is over.

Arranging the finer details of work experience had been tricky for me due to two very crucial commitments. I didn’t want to shout about it, because most people would say these shouldn’t be priorities but for me, they were absolutely key.

They were two gigs.

One, on the 31st March, at the Royal Albert Hall. The other, on the 8th April, at Manchester Arena. They were my two favourite bands, and there was no way in hell I was missing out on the chance to see Chvrches or Muse.

The Royal Albert Hall has always been the one venue I’ve wanted to experience a gig. I saw Chvrches were playing there just after we saw them in Birmingham and immediately wanted to go. I knew, even then, that the gig would be special – I knew it would tick a lot of boxes from my gig “bucket list”. I told Emma, and she pretended to forget about it while secretly letting her parents know, who very kindly bought us tickets as a Christmas present (thanks Mike and Suzy – seriously, thank you!).

It was everything I expected.

No, it was better than I expected.

For a start, while we usually stand, sitting was a welcome relief after a knackering day (week and a half) of work experience. But usual sitting does not compare to an almost private box on the second tier of the Royal Albert Hall. You can almost feel the moments of history throughout time that had taken place within those walls. And all from a comfy seat with a great view!

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The sound was better than I expected, sometimes sound can be lost in arenas, but here it was confined, and then amplified into something special.

Of course, it helps that Chvrches are absolute masters of gigs.

They sound great. They look great too, they look like a band ready to explode upon the world as leaders in their field and headliners of festivals, and hopefully even stadiums. But, they also feel relaxed. This didn’t scare them; it didn’t even faze the three of them. They made the odd comment about how big it was, but they were usually followed by a very relaxed exchange, almost a conversation, with the audience. Lauren has a great sense of the right words to say at the right times to make a crowd laugh. She controls the arenas well, while still mesmerising them with her, and her bands, music.

The more I see Chvrches, the more I hear from them, the more I love them. Yes, the setlist was almost identical to the one we had seen at the O2 (with the welcome addition of High Enough), but that didn’t matter – the gig, the venue and the atmosphere was special enough for this to be better in every regard.

There was only one regret. And that was that we weren’t standing for Clearest Blue.

Chvrches played: 

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 19.24.24It’s one of my biggest peeves that I always get nervous before gigs. I’ve no idea why, and I always always enjoy myself, yet in the immediate run up I can’t help but feel sick and not want to go.

It was worse than usual on the 8th April. Why? Well, on the surface at least, I should have been fine. We were off to see Muse, and for me it was my fifth time. I know just how good Muse are live, I know they are the single greatest live band on the planet and I knew I was going to have a great night.

However, it was Emma’s first Muse gig. For almost three years now, she’s listened to me badger on about how good they are live that it struck me she might think I was over exaggerating. And I got worried that she’d hate it, and never want to see them again. Sure, it’s irrational – especially when you consider how good it ended up being – but I can’t help it!

We were standing this time, and Muse boasting a 360 stage meant that we were able to get very close to the front. I’d love to write at some point about the other times I’ve seen Muse – and maybe this summer I can get around to it – but as a quick spoiler, you don’t go to see Muse purely for the music. The fact the music is better than anyone else’s is a bonus, but you go see them for the set design, the lighting and the visuals. I’ve seen them play on movable platforms, on “spaceships”, inside pyramids and with massive explosions at seemingly every chord. Each gig comes with it a different stage, each one better than the previous. This was no exception.

I usually have a problem with the sound at the Manchester Arena. It’s almost too big to sound good in, yet from the moment the support band started playing (Nothing But Thieves – an excellent opening act) I knew that wouldn’t be a factor.

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Muse are always good, but they were about as good as I’ve ever seen them that night. I’d seen every song live, except the new ones, but that didn’t matter. I’d only seen Bliss once. And Bliss should be played at every gig they do – it’s easily their best song live (a ridiculously hard statement). My only slight criticisms would be the continued presence of Madness and Feeling Good, however that’s only because I’ve seen them multiple times. For newbies, like Emma, they still warrant a good reception.

Muse demand respect live. Everything they do is so outrageously good. Emma loved it, drenched in sweat and just saying “wow, wow” as we left. Any band wanting to make it in today’s climate, just watch how Muse play gigs. Muse have never had a number 1 single, and haven’t had a top 5 hit for a decade, yet set an attendance record at the O2 in London and sold out two nights in Manchester. The true definition of a live band.

Muse played:

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Muse and Chvrches will always be worth seeing live. Both of them gig in different ways (Chvrches are more down with the crowd, Muse are more about the show), but both of them do it in fantastic ways. Muse should go on a stadium tour next summer, and I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Chvrches aren’t headlining that level by the end of their career – their sound would suit it. I say this a lot, and I realise these reviews are always positive, but if you ever get the chance to see either of them live, take it and run with it. You can’t help but be blown away by both.

Music Through The Eras

I’ve always been fascinated by space. In many ways it was the one reason I did a physics degree in the first place. Physics degrees ruin everything anyone could ever enjoy about the subject, and that was that. I thought my love of all things clever had gone.

Last Thursday, I was stood in the Rock City crowd, and was reading about what I had done on that day in years gone by. Apparently, a year previous I had put up my review of Kaiser Chiefs. Public Service Broadcasting had supported the Kaisers on that day. This is relevant because I was stood in a crowd that was about to enjoy Public Service Broadcasting.

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PSB (for that’ll be easier from now on) have had an incredible year. Their second album charted just under the top 10, and the vinyl release was the 34th best selling vinyl of 2015. It was entitled “The Race For Space” and it has reinvigorated my love for all things space.

The gig was fun. Fun seems like a horrible word to describe it. A word that just doesn’t do it justice, yet it seems like the only proper word. Emma and I haven’t ever had that much fun at a gig.

PSB are, officially, a two-piece. Although in reality that should be three, and live it’s definitely four. It’s more than about the music for PSB; their live member is in charge of the visuals. They put music to old public service films, and play sections of the films on big screens and TVs on the stage. They even come with their very own Sputnik.

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The set was a great mix of their first album and second album material with a couple of songs thrown in from their War Room EP. And who says you need vocals to have a good gig? PSB only interact with the crowd through the use of a computer and hand actions, but that doesn’t deprive from the experience. In fact, there was more humour than most gigs, my favourite being Willgoose telling an audience member to simmer down after they heckled him.

Despite a few technical difficulties, at the end of the day when you try something this expansive there are bound to be some, this was one of my favourite gigs of all time. And I don’t think that’s an exaggeration, they really were superb and I would see them every time I can.

I have a theory. It changes my perspective on why I did physics. I had a love with the romanticism of physics, rather than the reality. The romanticism is contained within the history of developments, a side that PSB highlight.

If schools taught history in the style of PSB, it would be a lot more successful.

PSB played:

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Gabrielle Aplin @ Rock City

Rock City is quickly becoming my favourite venue in the country, and I’ve only seen two gigs there. The reason? The sound quality for a start is fantastic; you can hear every single chord, note and word. The atmosphere is great, it’s not a small venue yet retains a certain level of intimacy. You feel close to, and connected with those around you, and as a result, the artist.

For a venue with the word “Rock” in its title, it works particularly well for the more pop/folky artists. This again comes back to the sound, complete clarity is great for rock gigs but is crucial for singer-songwriter ones.

Last night we saw Gabrielle Aplin there, and if I had to use one word to describe it, it would be magical.

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Aplin is a diamond in the rough of the music industry. She writes catchy and memorable songs, yet her biggest asset is quite clearly her voice. That alone is great for a record and acceptable for a live performance but wouldn’t make her worth seeing gig.

What makes gigs worth it is her character. She interacts with the crowd, she clearly enjoy what she does and everything seems genuine. Even when she said “this is the best crowd I’ve ever played to”, a line said by so many people across so many ages of music, it felt more true than before.

I first heard Gabrielle when listening to the radio on a long car journey home. I was captivated by Salvation, and pestered Emma to lend me her album. Her first album is an incredible record, but, in a refreshing change from the norm, her second excels it in every department.

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I think that this was summed up during the period of the gig last night immediately after her beautiful Space Oddity tribute to Bowie. Four of the five songs that followed were taken from her second album, and it was the best part of the entire night. It helped that Light Up The Dark, Together, Slip Away and Sweet Nothing are the highlights of the album, and further that the first album song was her first single, Please Don’t Say You Love Me, but it highlights the strength and improvement of her second release. That section of five songs is one of my favourite passages of a gig of all time.

From what I gather, Gabrielle Aplin tours with people she knows. She’s close friends with Hudson Taylor, and they usually support her – they didn’t due to an injury. Instead she called in Lewis Watson, who talks to them all on twitter. Hannah Grace also supported her, and then later became Gabrielle’s backing vocalist. She has her own record label, which Nottingham artist Saint Raymond is signed to, and he joined her on stage to perform his song to open the encore. She promotes unsigned, unknown or small artists through her own fame.

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With a beautiful voice, a talent for writing songs, a stage presence and the aforementioned promotion of other artists, it’s impossible not to like Gabrielle Aplin.

She didn’t want the gig to end, a view most likely shared by everyone packed into Rock City to see her.

Gabrielle Aplin played (plus a cover of a Saint Raymond song before Salvation):

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Worth it?

When the doors opened at the O2 Academy in Birmingham on Wednesday night (25th November), Emma and I were stuck in traffic. We hadn’t parked and we hadn’t had a chance to eat despite leaving just after half 4. The journey to Birmingham had been fraught and with both of us having an early start the next day, there was a lingering question: would this be worth it?

By the time we arrived home it was well past midnight. The A42 was closed, meaning a simple journey back to Nottingham ended up being diverted around past Burton and almost up to Derby. Again, the question was: was it worth it?

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Chvrches, the Scottish electro-pop three piece, were playing the O2 that night.

I keep coming back to Chvrches. They are a band suitable for any mood, and indeed every mood, and don’t have a single bad song across either album. It’s been 2 years since they released their debut album, and a few months since they released their second. Both are of exceptional quality, both in the studio and live.

I mentioned in my Imagine Dragons review a couple of weeks ago that I like bands that add different elements to their songs live, mainly riffing. Chvrches don’t do that in the obvious sense of it, but in a less obvious one they do.

While the songs aren’t different, the layers are more complex. The music is heavier, the vocals more intense. They remain the same band they are in the studio, just more powerful, more chilling.

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Chvrches comprise of Iain Cook, Martin Doherty and Lauren Mayberry. Lauren, the vocalist, has a journalism degree (I very much approve) and is the face of the band. She has a wonderful voice, which rarely falters live. With electro music, there is always the possibility that the vocals will get lost. With Chvrches, that couldn’t be any further from the truth.

Mayberry owns the stage, as good as any other front, and interacts with the crowd on a regular basis. When we saw Chvrches at T, she told us not to throw piss at people, in Birmingham it was more positive – about how this gig was the penultimate one on the tour and that the songs had become very polished.

It was her who draws you in.

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But that is not to say she is the only part of the band. They are a band, a fact that does seem lost on some people some times. The music doesn’t drown out the vocals, nor do they overpower it. They complement it. All three of them provide an energy that is infectious and a gig that is mesmerising. When Martin sings Under The Tide, he proves that he can also hold a stage as a front as Lauren took a backseat.

So, how do you do a second album tour? Play a bit of both albums, allow fans old and new to sample and enjoy. Chvrches did exactly that, to great effect. Both my face and throat hurt by the end of the night, for I spent the whole gig smiling and singing.

One day Chvrches will play arenas, maybe even stadiums. That’s the direction in which they are heading, and will happen sooner rather than later. But, let’s consider it doesn’t. Even if they continue playing venues such as the O2 in Birmingham, they will own every single stage they occupy and leave every fan, would be fan, and demi-fan begging for more.

Was the journey worth it?

What do you think?

Chvrches played:

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The future of rock?

I’ve realised recently that our, well my – I ramble too much, reviews tend to be too long and so, starting from now, I’m going to cut them down. That doesn’t mean that every gig from now on is less enjoyable than the ones previously, I just want to be more concise in our writing.  

What do I expect from a gig? Firstly, I expect to be entertained, after all music is an art, and secondly, I want to hear a bunch of songs I know and love. It’s actually a very vague description of what makes a good gig and therefore one of the reasons there hasn’t been a gig that I’ve bought tickets for that I haven’t enjoyed.

There’s a little more… A good support band is always useful, although a bad one can make the main act more special. A good support band will rattle through as many of their songs as they can, talking and interacting with the crowd a little but mainly using the opportunity to showcase their music.

The main band should be a little bit different. I think a good band plays their music but adds in different elements, be it a different version of the song, riffing at the end of it or more interaction with the crowd. Particularly riffing. I like riffing, it showcases the talent within the band beyond what they do in the studio.

Essentially, I want a band to be better live than their records are.

Imagine Dragons (and support Sunset Sons) at Nottingham on Friday 6th November were all of that mentioned above.

The Nevada band are more of a rock band than, I think, the public think they are. They certainly have plenty of pop influences within their music, and that’s what has made them commercially successful, but the four of them seem to want to be fully blown rock stars.

Imagine Dragons, Capital FM Arena, Nottingham, 06-11-15. Photo by Laura Patterson. Must credit on use.

Imagine Dragons, Capital FM Arena, Nottingham, 06-11-15. Photo by Laura Patterson. Must credit on use.

They throw in the riffing, they allow members to show off with solo’s, they play songs that people in the crowd might not know if they don’t know the band and, in a great move, they mash their own choruses together to fit in more of their earlier songs. There was even a touching moment when lead singer Dan Reynolds asked people to be humans and buy their song written to give money to charities helping the refugee crisis. Charity singles are a huge part of rock history!

Lead guitarist Wayne Sermon is clearly influenced by prog rock guitarists, highlighted in his solo section, while combining that with a more modern sound.

The gig was packed full of songs from their new album, all of them sounding better than they did on the record. This is impressive when you consider that their second album really is an impressive work of art. Where Night Visions gave them commercial success and a world wide following, Smoke & Mirrors seems more like the music they want to make and I prefer it.

Songs like I’m So Sorry, Gold, I Bet My Life and new one Roots were all born to be played live. That, right there, is the definition of making good music.

Imagine Dragons, Capital FM Arena, Nottingham, 06-11-15. Photo by Laura Patterson. Must credit on use.

Imagine Dragons, Capital FM Arena, Nottingham, 06-11-15. Photo by Laura Patterson. Must credit on use.

The rock scene is full of snobs. Snobs who refuse to give pop the credit it deserves, who think that the only way to make rock music is to make it away from the public eye. In reality, that kind of thinking will only ever see rock music die out. If rock bands have to infuse their sounds with pop elements to gain a bigger following, then so be it. Rock bands were made to play stadiums. Once Foo Fighters, Green Day and Muse finish there will be very few who can actually do that.

Now, I’m not saying Imagine Dragons will play stadiums. I’m saying that I think their methods point towards the future of rock music. And if I’m right, then it’s a future I’m more than happy to be behind.

Another snobby view is that modern music is talentless and pointless. Seeing Imagine Dragons live is just one of many ways in which you can prove that to be utter trash.

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Courtesy of Emma Still

Imagine Dragons played:

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Hitting the nail on the head: Duke Special’s Look Out Machines!

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At Christmas, Emma bought herself and I tickets to see Duke Special play at Nottingham’s Glee Club on the 12th March. It was a seated acoustic night with Peter Wilson (ie Duke Special) sat at the piano playing songs and talking with the audience. It showcased what a wonderfully talented, as well as genuinely lovely, man he is and was an evening you couldn’t help but enjoy. It was the 6th or 7th time I had seen him live, and one of the reasons I could quite easily see him another 6 or 7 times is because of how different every gig is. I’ve seen him with an orchestra of 7, or one of 3, I’ve seen him by himself and I’ve seen him headline festivals. I’ve even had the pleasure of meeting him twice in one night. He’s truly mesmerising live, and his piano skills are better than most in pop music these days.

Me on the left with Duke Special in the centre (and my friend Zoe on the right)

Me on the left with Duke Special in the centre (and my friend Zoe on the right)

The reason for his gig at the Glee club was the release of a new album, Look Out Machines!. As expected, the evening contained many new songs as well as old ones and covers. Duke is an artist who covers a lot of songs, whilst always putting his own spin on them. My favourite is his version of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, although he didn’t play it! There were 8 new songs played, 5 covers and 4 old ones from what I (and setlist.fm) remember, although there might have been more. I was going to review it, like I’ve been doing with all of our other gigs but I wanted to wait to hear the new songs properly and be able to talk about them with confidence before doing it. Following the release of the album on the 6th April, I just never got around to it.

So here goes: Duke was enthralling that night. From the moment he walked on and started playing a new song, Elephant Graveyard, you could tell the audience were going to love the night. He explained the motives behind each of his new songs in detail, wanting us to get a feel for why he wrote the song and not just hear the music. At one stage he asked the audience to request songs from his back catalogue, which led to welcome renditions of Portrait, Brixton Leaves and Wanda. All of his old songs were taken from his first album (except Wanda, from Hector Mann) and all his new ones were played on the piano with no accompanying instruments, except Elephant and Son of the Left Hand, leading me to believe that his new album would be similar to his first, undoubtedly his best. It was impossible not to walk away satisfied that night. We had seen a truly talented musician, playing music he believed in and covered songs he loved. There was no pretence, no falseness – he was glad to be able to play to an audience where most knew and loved him without assuming it was always going to happen. Unknown artists are always the best to see live because it’s when music is at it’s purest. Music wouldn’t evolve without artists like Duke Special.

Duke is incredible live, go see him!

Duke is incredible live, go see him!

I was wrong in my initial assumption regarding the album. Rather than an album based mainly around Duke and the piano, which was what I had expected following the gig, a lot of the songs have his band playing with him. That aspect is similar to his second and third studio albums, however works much better than either of them did. He hasn’t written a bad album, it’s just this one is much better than anything since Songs From The Deep Forest, his debut attempt. Why is it more advanced? For me, it’s as simple as saying the songs are better and he’s clearly experimented in adding some different styles into his songs. For example, the rise in mood of Wingman following the second chorus was never something I expected to hear on a Duke Special record. One thing that remains constant throughout is his voice, at it’s best haunting and always beautiful, the strong Northern Irish tones add so much. Even in his voice, his staple, he finds room to experiment with his vocal range – something that, having seen the songs live, definitely works.

I’ve seen Duke Special headline Greenbelt festival; a collection of Christian artists and it’s no secret that Duke is a religious man. This isn’t really a surprise, given his Belfast upbringing however as he mentioned at the Glee Club, there is a level of indifference growing highlight in In a Dive’s “Jesus and his blood don’t mean so much anymore … don’t get me wrong it isn’t that I don’t believe”. In a Dive is written about how he’s being turned away by Belfast’s reputation as the Bible Belt of Europe but also how he finds beautiful and profound qualities in the most unlikely of places. Step To The Magical, the song before, draws on that latter theme and is written about a woman walking through busy streets, helping strangers and leaving the world a better place. Duke joined forces with former Snow Patrol guitarist, Iain Archer to write Elephant Graveyard, about the myth that elephants know where to go when they are going to die, how they all flock to a holy or mystical place to die. As usual, religion plays a huge part. Rounding off this section would be Son of the Left Hand, written about how being left-handed was seen as being a curse for many years.

That isn’t to say the whole album is based around religious themes, and they aren’t so obvious as to suffocate you. There is no preaching to Jesus here, as usual Duke deals with his religion in a non-pushy and approachable way. In many ways, he’s what all religious people should be – inspired by it but not forcing it down others throats. There are songs about how certain people can always get through to you, even if you don’t want to hear it, songs about never being alone and Statues is a love song, simple as. He meant every song to be positive and full-of-hope, well for me he succeeded. You can feel the hope, the optimism and the belief of future success in every song, which means the album becomes very listenable and easy to get lost in.

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I’m finding it very difficult to criticise it. There isn’t a weak song; there isn’t a duff note. Son of the Left Hand was my favourite song immediately upon hearing it, and that hasn’t changed. Step to the Magical has been stuck in my head many times in the two months I’ve owned the album while Wingman might just be the best song he’s written in years. Nail on the Head, In a Dive and Statues all show Duke doing what he does best. The first half of the album is the best of all his previous efforts. The only reason I still rate Songs From higher is because the second half doesn’t contain Salvation Tambourine and Last Night I Nearly Died. Look Out Machines, Stepping Stones and Domino are good songs in their own right, not quite matching the heights of those previous but still demanding listens.

The more I listen to Look Out Machines!, the more I fall in love with it. To describe it as a grower would be unfair though, as it immediately grabbed my attention. It’s an album that has come at the right time. The messages of hope resound within me, the easy music makes it difficult to listen to something else and Duke’s voice keeps you captivated. It contains enough of his quirks (unfortunately no gramophone that I noticed), highlighted on Tweed Coats as the background sounds are simply him walking around Eastbourne. It contains incredibly catchy elements (pre-chorus for Nail “I rattled the walls as I ran through the halls, screamed every word that I knew”) and moments where you can feel how much emotion he’s put into this album. But none of that is what makes it so special. It could be a dreadful album and still be special for it was completely fan funded. Gigging is how Duke makes his living and it’d be easy to look at the established artists and say musicians have it easy but for people like him, albums can only be produced through the generosity of fans, essentially strangers. Obviously they chose that career path, however like I’ve said music won’t evolve without artists like Duke Special and it’s up to us make sure they don’t die out. Buy Look Out Machines!, I assure you that you won’t regret it.

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Rating:

  1. Wingman – 9/10
  2. Elephant Graveyard – 7/10
  3. Step to the Magical – 8/10
  4. In a Dive – 8/10
  5. Statues – 7/10
  6. Son of the Left Hand – 10/10
  7. Look Out Machines – 6/10
  8. Nail on the Head – 8/10
  9. Tweed Coats – 6/10
  10. Stepping Stones – 6/10
  11. Domino – 6/10

Album rating: 7.5/10 (Excellent)

Note: I took most of the information about the writing of the album from here, it’s a review worth reading as it’s from the Horses’ mouse, the Duke himself. 

The Second Coming of the Kaiser Chiefs

We are the angry mob
We read the papers every day
We like who like
We hate who we hate
But we’re also easily swayed

The Angry Mob (2007)

For a few years of my youth, I went on weekend trips with a youth group comprised of Manchester churches. Despite never being overly religious, these weekends are a wonderful memory for me. I had friends there and it was always nice to spend a weekend away from school, playing football and the like. It was on the way back during the 2005 edition that the radio was on, and given it was a Sunday evening the chart show was on. If I’m honest, I don’t remember much from the show. The minibus was talkative throughout it, until we got towards the end when the tiredness and Sunday evening blues set in. It was at that point that the presenter proclaimed a new entry at number 6. I was 11 years old and my music taste was expanding following the impromptu buying of a U2 single in France and so anything with a catchy rock tune was appealing to me. That new entry at number 6 was the first time I heard Kaiser Chiefs. It wasn’t the last.

They tell you day after day
To make your way through the factory gates
‘Til they can’t break your will anymore
You are contractually tied to death’s door

The Factory Gates (2014)

During their peak, Kaiser Chiefs were near the top of a competitive field of rock bands. Oh My God was the song that made it to 6th while I Predict A Riot managed to reach 9th and became a classic almost immediately. If children my age weren’t singing to one of those than they were almost certainly belting out Everyday I Love You Less and Less (which was another top 10 hit). Even the fourth single from their debut, Modern Way, reached 11th. In this day and age, that kind of chart domination from a rock band seems improbable, which shows how well they were received. If 2005/06 was excellent for the Kaiser Chiefs from Leeds; they topped it in 2007 with their first (and to date only) number 1 single. Ruby became better known then anything they had done previous and was followed by two more top 20 singles (Everything Is Average Nowadays and The Angry Mob). With catchy choruses, memorable lyrics and a wonderful sing-a-long quality to all their songs, Kaiser Chiefs had created a mass following in little more than 3 years.

I know where I’m going
And that we are in the knowing
And I will stop at nothing
Just to get what I want

Modern Way (2005)

With Employment, their debut, selling more than 2 million copies and going 6x Platinum and their UK number 1 follow up, Yours Truly, Angry Mob, selling 887,000 and being classified 2x Platinum, it was always going to be difficult to keep this level of success up. Despite Off With Their Heads reaching number 2, selling almost 300,000 copies and being classified Gold it wasn’t received with the same reception the other two got. Following a hiatus, The Future Is Medieval was a commercial disaster, despite charting 10th, and Kaiser Chiefs looked finished. The tour that accompanied that album was an intimate venue one, hardly suiting their arena style choruses. It would have been so easy for them to just call it quits there. They had had a good run at the top, to produce 2 platinum albums in the cut-throat music industry of the 21st century is better than most and it was certainly fitting of a once great band.

You can tell we had a hell of a life,
You can tell we had one hell of a time,
You can see we had a colourful one from our eyes,
You can tell there is another to come.

My Life (2014)

On Saturday 7th February 2015 Emma and I saw them rock an almost full Capital FM Arena in Nottingham. For that to happen shows that they didn’t give up on music. Their original drummer, and reportedly chief songwriter, Nick Hodgson had left by this point whilst their lead singer and occasional actor had added celebrity TV talent show judge to his CV. Ricky Wilson has always been bigger than the band. His on-stage antics and likeable personality have marked him above the others, hence why he got acting roles in St Trinians 2 and Harry Potter. Rather than destroy the band, The Voice was the catalyst for the Kaisers reigniting their career. Again, at this point Ricky could have left Kaiser Chiefs behind and focused on TV however he chose not to, and together they wrote Education, Education, Education & War which shot back to where they belong, top of the charts, and has already been classified Gold. Returning to catchy guitar music, their latest offering offers more than that, maturity that only comes following a fall. Coming Home, the lead single, only made it to 31 in the singles chart but given the nature of streaming charts and download sales, it will be very difficult for any rock band to make a serious dent in singles charts these days. Coming Home was harshly described as a Radio 2 single, whereas I thought it showed the Chiefs determination to grow up musically while not leaving their belting chorus roots behind. The rest of the album proved me right about that, being an album about (surprisingly) education and war throughout the ages, including tackling how WW1 has shaped modern wars. It is a brave subject to write music about and they pulled it off with flying colours. It wasn’t perfect but showed enough to prove there is life left in the Kaiser Chiefs yet.

What is the golden rule?
You say nothing

Never Miss A Beat (2008)

Onto the gig itself now, and the evening started with Public Service Broadcasting. If you haven’t seen or heard of them then they are very difficult to explain. Essentially, they have put together different quotes from public service films and played music around them. They refuse to speak live, instead using the computer to convey what they want to say. I absolutely loved it, the music was wonderful and the idea, as far as I’m aware, unique. I like music that is a little bit unusual in its composition and PSB definitely fit in that bracket. All the members wear glasses and have written songs about climbing Everest, the Second World War and a whole album on the space race. According to them they are attempting to teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future. Should you ever get the chance, you won’t regret seeing them live.

I know, I feel it in my bones
I’m sick, I’m tired of staying in control
Oh yes, I feel a rat upon a wheel
I’ve got to know what’s not and what is real
Oh yes I’m stressed, I’m sorry I digressed
Impressed you’re dressed to SOS
Oh, and my parents love me
Oh, and my girlfriend loves me
Oh, they keep photos of me
Oh, that’s enough love for me

Everyday I Love You Less and Less (2005)

At 21:00 sharp, smoke filled the Capital FM arena smothering all of us standing near the front. As it cleared, the opening sounds of The Factory Gates were heard and the band appeared to play E,E,E&W’s opener. What followed was one of Peanut’s famous keyboard openings as Everyday I Love You Less and Less took off. The crowd, who were appreciative of The Factory Gates, sprung into life, mosh pits started and the singing was plentiful, proof that despite Kaiser’s fall the songs remained popular. Ricky Wilson’s role on The Voice meant that there were a lot of fans there to see just him, a lot of them female given the weight he’s lost in the past couple of years transforming him into a very attractive man. He spoke to the crowd for the first time following EILYLAL, mentioning how they were going to rock the arena by playing hit after hit. True to form, Everything Is Average Nowadays followed, the second single from Yours Truly and a definite crowd favourite. It was clear after 3 songs that this was going to be a wonderful gig. Kaiser Chiefs just emit energy and life. They love playing music and they are incredibly good at it. The crowd react well to every single song with at least 30% knowing every word and almost 90% knowing most choruses.

I know there is another way
If you want to see their face again
I know they feel the same way over there

Cannons (2014)

Ruffians On Parade and My Life from their latest album sandwiched Employment’s non-single but apparently well loved Na Na Na Na Naa. In many ways, these three songs sum Kaiser Chiefs up perfectly. All of them are full of energy, with choruses that remain in your head long after the song has finished. Ruffians is present with the weird lyrics that helps separate them from other bands (“I study military maps, it helps me relax”) as well as showing a level of intellect not always present in music these days. Na Na Na Na Naa is a simply composed song with many repeating passages but all that makes it easy to remember and join in with. They wrote the song for their 2005 debut and didn’t release it yet still play it live showing the timeless nature that their songs can bring even if they aren’t released. My Life encompasses the new maturity they have added to their arsenal. More than that though, My Life is tuneful, easy to listen to and memorable. The bridge at the end, with the lyrics mentioned above, is possibly my favourite passage from any Kaiser Chiefs song (although the Roses chorus pushes it close). Following My Life was The Angry Mob as Ricky took a “selfie-mic” (ie a mic with a camcorder on the top) to the middle of the crowd and led the crowd in a rendition of the repeated phrase at the very start of this article. Staying in the middle of the crowd, on a platform near the sound desk, Ricky left Simon, Peanut, Andrew and Vijay to hold the fort on the stage as he belted out the lyrics to Cannons. Their (very strange, not quite working) poem The Occupation read by Bill Nighy allowed Ricky to get back on stage.

The band during Roses.

The band during Roses

I once read an article stating that Kaiser Chiefs had lost 95% of their fans from their first album. It’s this kind of fall from grace which meant they were playing Manchester Academy 2 rather than Manchester Arena and also makes their rise back to somewhere close to the top even more remarkable. I may be reading too much into it however I believe Roses, the next song on the set, references that fall even if it isn’t specifically about it. It’s dark, dark where the roses grow, there’s something that you should know before you see the light. To me, the roses are the adulation they received from fans and the song is a letter to their younger selves, warning them to appreciate their time at the top for it won’t last forever. If plans were hand grenades, we’d all be dead; the festival of grief and there’s places I have to go before I see the light are all phrases used in the song which seem to fit with my theory and it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them writing about such a subject. Team Mate was played next, a strange choice by all regards but it somehow seemed to work. Two hits, Modern Way and Never Miss a Beat (the one hit from Off With Their Heads, surprisingly their second biggest chart song) both received a good reception and a hearty sing-a-long like they had at T. It still surprises me that NMAB is as popular as it is, I hadn’t realised at the time what a big hit that was.

Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby
Do you, do you, do you, do you
Know what you’re doing, doing, to me
Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, Ruby

Ruby (2007)

Despite Ricky’s huge personality, the band are as together as they have always been demonstrated by the section where they randomly choose a member of the band to pick a song and they play it. Obviously part of that will be scripted, however Simon Rix the bassist was chosen and he decided to play Thank You Very Much, an album song from Yours Truly. This was when things got very exciting for the ‘hit-fan brigade’ for what followed was a run of 4 frankly massive singles. There are few bands with even fewer songs that receive as good a reception as Ruby does at a gig. To follow that with I Predict A Riot meant the crowd was well and truly whipped into frenzy. Just when you thought they couldn’t do anything bigger, they proceeded to cover The Who’s Pinball Wizard. It doesn’t faze Kaiser Chiefs to cover such a huge band, nor should it for The Who inspired them and now they are inspiring other young bands that will have no fear covering Kaisers. To cover is to admire, respect and adore a band and to do it well is merely the icing on the cake. The main set then closed with Coming Home, accompanied with a homemade video of the walk through Nottingham to get to the Arena, a nice touch.

It don’t matter to me
‘Cos all I wanted to be
Was a million miles from here
Somewhere more familiar

Oh My God (2004/05)

During the wait for the encore they played a video of a mock Dave Grohl pep talk where basically he shouted at them for not being good enough. A lot of people were left confused by this but it clearly stems from them opening for Foo Fighters in South America. They came back on stage, joked, “you’ll never guess what just happened” and declared that the next song, a new one, would blow our minds. While it didn’t quite reach those heights, Falling Awake is a very promising start for the next album. Retaining their catchy choruses, a good proportion of the crowd, ourselves included, were joining in by the end. The encore was turning into one for the fans as Misery Company was played next, an album track from E,E,E&W. This I liked, as it shows Kaiser Chiefs haven’t sold out to the fake fans generated from The Voice. They ended as only they could, with the only massive hit they hadn’t played – Oh My God. OMG has always had a charm about it, potentially the easiest chorus to remember (Oh my god I can’t believe it, I’ve never been this far away from home) or possibly because it mentions working in a shirt with your name tag on it, coming back stronger than a powered up pac-man and drifting apart like a plate tectonic. It also features the early Kaiser trademark of one verse, pre chorus, one verse, pre chorus then chorus. Even now it retains the wonderful quality it had when I first heard it, like all the rest of the songs they played for us that Saturday night.

So thank you very much
That’s really nice to know
That you enjoyed the show
And I want you to know when to go

Thank You Very Much (2007)

Kaiser Chiefs have stood the test of time. They have been described as the court jesters of rock, pushed aside for more “serious” rock bands. In an industry dominated by cynicism and the desire for music to be dominated by pricks like Alex Turner and Kanye West, the Kaisers have always been a breath of fresh air. They go against logic that suggests sing-a-long choruses are out of date or that you can’t have a bit of fun while on stage. They’ve suffered a great fall, but have risen once more. Education… showed new depths of song writing, no longer writing about “I came down at your, on the national express, request to touch your breasts” but instead “we’re going to need a lot more cannons if you wanna be home by Christmas”. I’ll never know them personally but it was with a certain level of pride I saw them back at arenas. I don’t particularly enjoy the fact Ricky is on The Voice but he’s certainly used it to his, and his band’s, advantage and that’s all we can ask for. I’ve been with them from the start, saw the depths they fell to and am now looking forward to the future which, whisper it quietly, looks bright. With an enigmatic front man, catchy tunes and a solid back catalogue, Kaiser Chiefs look ready to enjoy a second wave of fame. They started their careers by being the furthest away from home they had ever been, they’ve now come home and, judging by their performance in Nottingham, are far from finished. Will the second chapter be as good as the first? It’s unlikely they’ll have another number 1 single however if they churn out solid tunes then their next arena tour will be sold out, of that I’m sure. All in all, it was a most enjoyable evening and would take every opportunity to see them live again. Are they one of the best live bands of our generation? Most certainly.

It does not move me it does not get me going at all

Na Na Na Na Naa (2005)

Bombay Bicycle Club: An unlikely fitting farewell to Earl’s Court

Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre has been a fixture on the British entertainment scene since it opened in 1937. Playing host to music, exhibitions and occasionally sporting events, this famous venue is being knocked down to make way for a set of luxury flats. Despite the backlash towards the idea, it has been passed and the final gig has now taken place. That honour fell to Bombay Bicycle Club on the 13th December and we had the pleasure of being there. When considering the bands that have played this venue, Bombay might have seemed like an anti-climax. However, they turned out to be the perfect band to say goodbye to an iconic venue.

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To start this, I believe a few words about Earl’s Court are required to put the gravitas of the gig into perspective. Despite opening in 1937, it didn’t play host to famous bands until 1973 when Pink Floyd took The Dark Side of the Moon there. They returned on numerous occasions (indeed Jamie MacColl of Bombay calculated that David Gilmour had played it more than 27 times – more on him later). Led Zep sold out five nights in 1975, which were widely considered to be the best of their career. Other acts included Slade, Elton John, Queen, Genesis and David Bowie, and that was just in the 1970’s! Since then, the standard has dropped a bit however the venue still boasted the likes of Oasis, Supertramp, Take That, Celine Dion, Morrissey, Muse, Arctic Monkeys and Arcade Fire. Furthermore, between 2000 and 2010, it became the regular host of the Brit Awards. Away from the music, it was the host of Comic Con amongst many other exhibitions. In 2012 it hosted the volleyball competition of the Olympics. All in all, the calibre of quality at Earl’s Court across the years has been as high as any venue in the world.

In the 70’s, Earl’s Court was the best music venue in London to headline, as demonstrated by the quality of acts that performed there. With a capacity of 19,000, including a massive floor space, you can see why. However, the building and transformation of the O2, as well as the move towards stadium gigs has rendered it second-class. Recently, it has been used as a stepping-stone for vaguely famous bands to make the step up to stardom. Muse in 2004 played there as part of their Absolution Tour, and one album later they were headlining Wembley Stadium. Arctic Monkeys played there on the AM tour, which has been their most successful album to date. Despite reportedly bringing in £1bn into the UK economy every year, the plans to redevelop it were signed by Boris Johnson and the curtain has closed on one of the most successful, recognisable and quintessential venues on the London music scene.

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The band that were trusted to close the curtain was Bombay Bicycle Club, a London based band. They consist of 4 young men, plus the wonderful Liz Lawrence as a touring member (and un-official fifth member), and in the past 6 years they have released 4 successful albums. They strike me as intelligent people. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’ve planned their rise to this status carefully. After a couple of mildly successful EP’s, they released their debut album I Had The Blues But Shook Them Loose in 2009, an infectious indie album full of catchy guitar riffs and sing-along choruses, which was enough to get them noticed. Their second album, Flaws, was completely acoustic thus proving they were able to adapt to new sounds and their next two releases, A Different Kind of Fix and So Long, See You Tomorrow have seen them experiment with more keyboards and fewer guitars. They have implemented instruments from around the world into their music, throwing together Indian, brass and electronic styles together, in a mix which still retains the catchy appeal of their first album. They started off gaining a solid fan base, increased it by adjusting their style before changing again to a style that they obviously feel more comfortable with. So Long, See You Tomorrow was a well-polished album, which neatly brought together all aspects of their career and probably as a result reached number 1 in the albums chart.

Bombay have never been a chart band, they haven’t had a top 40 single nor are they likely to. However their albums have always been well received, with the last three peaking inside the top 10. The reason for that, and indeed why they make such a good live act, is that they don’t possess a stand out song. Each and every one of their songs is as good as the one before it. They all stand on their own two feet and say potential single, especially evident on So Long in my opinion. I prefer this approach to music, as it makes people buy more than one or two songs at a time. It also means that at gigs you can play album tracks and it is likely that the crowd will still know all the words to them. Upon realising all of this, they went from being a band I like to a band I adore in the space of a few small months. I never get tired of listening to their music, so for me they were the perfect act to close Earl’s Court but I can appreciate why others didn’t share that view.

We had never been to Earl’s Court before, and so were gobsmacked by the realisation of just how big it is inside. It’s tough to compare to anything, my first thought was Olympic sized swimming pool but I’m not sure of the dimensions. The support acts were SiVu and Peace, both of whom were very entertaining. SiVu has a lovely voice whereas Peace are energetic, with some serious talent. They will definitely be a band to watch in the future, especially as they dared to cover Led Zep. Neither was a patch on the main event though, which started with their spoof video looking back upon the Earl’s Court gig 30 years in the future. The video, which has been doing the rounds on Facebook for months now, is a perfect example of how Bombay Bicycle Club don’t take themselves particularly seriously. It used the premise that this Earl’s Court night had gone down in history, propelling the band to immense stardom. Of course, in reality that won’t happen however that tongue-in-cheek nature is another alluring quality of theirs.

There is an argument that with so many styles, Bombay’s gigs can become disjointed, and indeed I’ve seen reviews of this show saying exactly that. Personally, we couldn’t disagree more. They address the differing styles by splitting the gig into sections, starting with the 3rd and 4th albums, having an acoustic break for the 2nd one and then the rockier 1st one before returning to the 3rd and 4th. It’s not disjointed; indeed the differing styles give it character. While bands who make similar songs album after album can be good, changing your style and successfully implementing that into gigs proves you are more talented musicians. Given we had seen them at T in the Park, we knew we were in for a treat, however we didn’t know just how much of one.

Like they had at T, they opened with So Long’s opener Overdone. Bombay have done many riffs in their time, however none match the one which Overdone boasts. Catchy to the extreme, it is a piece of guitar fingering I can listen to over and over again. They extended Overdone by riffing at the end, leading it straight into a genuine goose bumps number, Come To. “It’s hard to see it for all the rust, but I saw it fading and I had some faith in us”. Liz’s and Jack’s (Steadman, the lead singer, Dad dancing all round wonderful guy) voices combine in perfect harmony on what has always been my favourite song from So Long. The high-energy start continued with It’s Alright Now (the first true sing-along from the crowd) and their second biggest single to date, Shuffle. At this point, they brought the first of their collaborators onto the stage to perform Lights Out, Words Gone from A Different Kind of Fix. For years now, Lucy Rose has been an integral part of Bombay. She has provided additional vocals on every album since Flaws, as well as featuring at most live shows. Lights Out, Words Gone is a perfect example of why Bombay works. It possesses a simple structure, with only two verses and then a repeat of the same two lines over and over again at the end, which they somehow manage to turn into an absolute masterpiece. Your Eyes follows, a song that proves they haven’t forgotten their guitar-indie roots completely and not one we had seen at T.

David Gilmour + the band during Rinse Me Down

David Gilmour + the band during Rinse Me Down

Liz Lawrence took centre stage during Home By Now, and her performance helped it be one of the best songs of the whole evening. It was powerful, it was emotional and the combination was spine tingling. Whenever, Wherever closed the first section, and the acoustic guitars got ready for what we expected to be Rinse Me Down and Ivy & Gold. Both were played, but not before Jamie MacColl (guitarist) dropped the biggest surprise of the night by inviting family friend and legendary musician David Gilmour to join them on stage. Jack was visibly nervous as the band played Rinse with Gilmour before the Pink Floyd guitarist took centre stage to perform Wish You Were Here. Unsurprisingly this got a huge reception, and was certainly one of the highlights. However, it is a massive disrespect to Bombay to say the rest of the gig was an anti-climax, as the crowd reception to Ivy & Gold was huge, proving that this is a band that are capable on big stages and following legends. The upbeat acoustic number about a hung-over morning preceded the acoustic closer of I Had the Blues. The Giantess has the same riff as Emergency Contraception Blues, the heavier album instrumental opener, and for years BBC have combined the two into one song at their gigs. I can certainly see why, as the result is a monster of a song that a few years ago would have been a near perfect closer, now it is a excellent bridge between sections.

Evening/Morning and Dust On the Ground were well received by the crowd (one annoying guy next to me kept proclaiming them as “classsicccc”), particularly bassist’s Ed Nash’s sections during the former. The bass was turned up as loud as possible; leading to a heart-thumping introduction to the chorus we all bellowed out “I am ready to owe you anything”. How Can You Swallow So Much Sleep, another simple structure from A Different Kind of Fix, the dance-party Indian themed Feel, still retaining it’s brilliance live, and Luna, with Rae Morris, are all strong songs meaning the quality wasn’t waning as the gig neared it’s conclusion. Throughout the gig, Bombay were extending songs and riffing, allowing drummer Suren de Saram the chance to showcase his considerable talent with the sticks. Behind the band was a big screen and circles, which were used to show animations during the new songs. For the older ones, animations hadn’t been made and so during these drum solos, they showed a bird eyes view of the drumming, giving a clear impression of how technical it was. As for the animations, they included a skeleton lifting his skull off his shoulder and dancing during Shuffle and a cobra shaking from side to side before bursting during Feel. All done in the style of the album covers, Bombay clearly put a lot of thought into their live shows.

Closing with the incredibly infectious Always Like This, which has always been one of Bombay’s finest moments, and album title track So Long, See You Tomorrow (“when you reign it, down lights come” – they never do simple lyrics), they left the stage as heroes. If anyone in the audience had doubted their ability, they surely couldn’t anymore. Bombay had rocked Earl’s Court, had given it one final goodbye, surprised everyone by bringing out Gilmour and kept the quality and intensity up throughout. Far from being disjointed, this was a band at the top of their game. What other band could play so many songs from their worst charted album and yet still have them all known by the crowd? Indeed, the old songs weren’t finished there as they came back on to play What If, opened by yet another drums solo. Jamie then said we needed to give Earl’s Court a fitting farewell (I already had the title for this blog!) and they finished in the only way they could. Carry Me is built upon a sample of a Lucy Rose song and put together with a football chant–like chorus, therefore making it the perfect sing-along to finish any gig with. These two hours were perfection indeed.

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Earl’s Court is steeped in history, Bombay Bicycle Club are rich with potential. The coupling of the two was a stroke of genius from the various promotional and management teams, however unlikely it seemed. The future of Earl’s Court is now murky at best, we don’t know when the bulldozers will set in nor do we know how the flats will turn out. It’s a sad thing to be pulling down a venue so iconic that it deserves protective status. I accept that change happens, and that this gives lesser-known venues bigger bands in London however we should preserve some of our history else we will have nothing left to show off about. If this is the end for Earl’s Court, it is surely merely the beginning for Bombay. As Jamie, Jack and Ed played the end riff to What If in sync, standing on the amps it was clear they were a group, together in perfect harmony. They are at home playing these venues and hence this won’t be the biggest gig of their careers. None of us will see another gig, exhibition or sporting event at Earl’s Court but all of us will hear from Bombay Bicycle Club again and should you get the chance, never pass up the opportunity to see them live. I personally have only seen one band I would consider better live, and even then I’d say Bombay have the potential within themselves to match Muse’s shows. They have the tunes, they have the light show and they have the visual aids. So long Earl’s Court, Bombay will see the world tomorrow.