Archive for the ‘Swing’ Category

Well, it was another busy year in London town for gigging, full of interest and some surprises. If you had told me at the beginning of the year what my favourite gig  would be, I wouldn’t have believed you. Pure pop will always have its fling but it’s quite clear to me that artistic creative groups and singers are in the ascendancy. That makes 2 two years in row that shall we say an Artrock group has won the gold medal in my affections. (The pick of 2010 was  Fever Ray’s ethereal performance at the temple of indie, namely, Brixton Academy with its forest of rhytmic flashing Edwardian lampshades – yes I’m a sucker for a light show).

It’s hardly suprising though that I should look around for something original when you consider the number of bog standard indie groups there are around. I went on one ticket agent website and found anyhthing between 300 and  600 Indie groups touring the UK at any one time and with some of these bands, it feels to me sometimes like – been there, seen that, done it.  There are notable exceptions, of course, such as great bands like The Kooks, The Rakes and The Wombats – apparently anything with “The” in the title.

But to get back to the point, great pure indie performances have been hard to come by of late.  So with that mind, here is my Top 5 of 2011. Many may say where is Adele in this list? I say show me the person who could get a ticket to one of her concerts.

1. Metronomy – Royal Albert Hall, London,  October 3rd

Mighty Metronomony, a band from tiny Totnes, a Devon seaside town, were little known at the beginning of the year. They had played UK festivals but in the biggest performance of their career so far, they blew the roof off with their dreamy electro-Wurlitzer style of Art rock. They had the whole of the Albert Hall crowd dancing their socks off. This show saw them graduate from the little to the major league of live performances. Quite unforgettable.

2.KT Tunstall – The Forum (HMV Forum), Kentish Town, London, March 8th

Early in the year KT Tunstall gave a masterclass in how sassy, cool Rock and Pop should be delivered in this intimate venue. Looking every inch the rock star as she assertively and rhythmically strummed her Gibson dove, she was totally engaged with the audience and served up rock newbies from latest album Tiger Suit and crowd pleasers such as Suddenly I See and Black Horse and the Cherry Tree. This was a performance from a musician absolutely at the top of  her game.

3. Caro Emerald – Shepherd’s Bush Empire (O2 Empire Shepherd’s Bush),  London, December 13th

She is extremely popular in Europe with a cult status in her native Holland. With her 40s and 50s swing style mixed with old time jazz, 80’s scatching  and contemporary rhythm, this entertaining newcomer to the UK was  classy and  spell binding throughout her 1 and half  hour long show.  In my view, she should have been shortlisted for Best International newcome for the BRIT awards but sadly it didn’t happen. Who are these people who sit on the panel anyway?

4. Pulp – Wireless Festival, Hyde Park, July 3rd

What can I say, Jarvis Cocker is legend. It takes a hell of a performer to keep 30,000 people (many the worse for wear from a day’s drinking) engaged but this was a fantastic trip for the nostalgia junkies – myself included. Cocker’s weird geeky dancing, almost nonchalant demeanour and wit added to the charm. You could not imagine anyone less likely to be a rock star but at the same time also superb at it. I and thousands of other bounced up and down and belted out Common People at the top of our lungs with a feeling and intensity I have seldom witnessed at any other concert.

5. Take That – Wembley Stadium, London, Thursday 30th June

Its unusual for me to list boy bands and pure pop groups amongst my favourite live acts but with songs from an exceptional latest album –Progress, Robbie Williams return to the group and his 30 minute solo spot, a stage set to rival Star Wars and a giant hydraulic man going from sitting to standing – standing, morever, at the height of the stadium, you cannot fail to be anything but impressed. The most expensive ticket I ever payed for a concert in London at £105 – remember Take That sold over a million tickets for the UK tour. The price and demand reflects the enduring popularity of the group. Would I spend the money again? No! Was it worth it? – Yes, absolutely . The sight of more than 70,000 people singing Robbie Williams’s Angels, one of the most beautiful and enduring songs ever produced in the UK, was worth the price of admission alone.

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CARO EMERALD’S GEM OF A PERFORMANCE AT SHEPHERD’S BUSH EMPIRE, December 13th 2011

Caro Emerald shines lives at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, UK December 13th, 2011

Caro Emerald shines at Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, December 13th 2011

 

I must confess I can hardly claim to be objective when writing this particular review. I have for several months been itching to see this artist following my first listening of her Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room floor album. Emerald’s fusion of musical genres with its essence firmly rooted in the mid 20th century jazz and swing is addictive. The rhythms and hooks that weave back and forth are so ridiculous catchy that you find yourself a’moving and a’grooving and humming the tunes all over your house.   In addition, due to a somewhat curtailed performance of 20 minutes at Radio 2 live festival in Hyde Park this summer, my need to see this live show just kept growing over the months. I finally got to scratch my itch at Shepherd’s Bush Empire where I and 2000 others were rewarded with a thrilling performance.

The artist herself apparently had also had a desire as she stated quite genuinely that she had been looking forward to this particular show for such a long time and noted that it had been long sold out. This was indeed the case. The Empire was packed to the rafters with a mature and highly appreciative audience.

Every track from the album was played along with new material – “Two Hearts” and to put us in the festive spirit a track called “You’re All I want for Christmas”. With a band very classically placed around the stage from left to right keyboard, decks, bass, 3 horns brass section and guitar, Caro sauntered into the centre of the stage in fifties style green swing dress (the first of  costumes during the show) and indeed started the swing thing going with “That Man”.

Follow that up with the seductive “ Just One dance” and you had the making of a smouldering combustible performance, except that this show was peppered with lighter hearted fun offerings as well. For example, “Riviera Drive” had, as the title suggested, the feel of going on summer road trip and you could almost imagine the horns following in a car behind as an accompaniment.

Caro was so  obviously proud of the song “Back it UP” that she on went at length to explain gave her the opportunity to record, having been called in by her 2 Dutch producers Jan van Wieringen and David Scheurs to replace a demo singer. The rest as they say is history as the collaboration took off. This extended “Back it Up” complete with a bit of classy scratching from the desks was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the show. Caro Emerald even got the crowd repeatedly singing the title for about 5 minutes.  Impressive extended solos to band members were also given on “Absolutely Me” where Caro took a backseat for a half of the song

The formidable arrangements for “Lipstick on his Collar” and “The Other Woman” could have come straight out of a grand James Bond movie score. But what made me want to get up swing (even on the 3rd floor balcony) was the infectious combination of old time jazz and swing of “You Don’t Love” interspersed with Caro’s passionate mournful crescendos. Absolutely brilliant!  The swirling bossa-nova style piano of “A Night Like This” brought the first part to a climax but it wasn’t long that Caro and her band were off stage.

It does seem compulsory these days artist must perform an obligatory cover but it’s alright when the cover is a decent song and the arrangement is original. So, to already rapturous applause, they returned to complete to perform The Cure number “ Close to Me” and a lively upbeat rendition of “Stuck” which recalled my summer holiday in Italy and an slapstick advert on Italian TV with a stranded girl in the sea, an octopus and a couple of lifeguards but we won’t go into that.

Fittingly in a 2nd encore, Caro brought the show to a close with a cover tribute  to Amy Winehouse of “Love is a Losing Game” on the very stage where one of the latter’s most memorable concert was recorded.  This was to be my final gig of 2011 but what an amazing way to end. Caro Emerald, her band and the musical arrangements are sensational.