27 July 2005: Waster + Afterglow + The Bazookas – Oh Bar, London, England, UK

Any regular on the live circuit in London – well anywhere for that matter – will know that there are continually new venues cropping up and then disappearing almost as quickly. Some landlord walks past a venue, sees a band playing to a crowd and thinks ‘that big space by the toilets isn’t doing anything in my pub’ and more sinisterly hears the ringing of his cash register and ‘hey presto’ you’ve got a live venue.

Or have you?

I mean, it’s really not as simple as sticking up a poster and telling the bands to get on with it. Upon arrival at the Oh Bar tonight the venue really doesn’t seem ready to join the live circuit. Even to my untrained eye you can see the engineer is in a total flap and the PA, if you can call four little speakers a PA, is hopelessly underpowered. There’s no stage lighting. Guess why? Yep, there’s no stage. In fact, having seen the Bazookas a few weeks ago and been utterly blown away, my tingling sense of anticipation has been deflated somewhat.

Nevertheless, there’s a healthy crowd and due to some sort of mix-up and much to everyone’s surprise headliners, The Bazookas are kicking the night off. Could they possibly be as good as I remembered them?

They answer in blistering fashion, opening with a three song opening salvo and receiving huge cheers from what is a big crowd, despite the monsoon lashing at the windows outside. It’s a mighty sound and the boys are giving it their all. Guitarist Jonny Awesome is all over the furniture, clambering around the venue and eventually is on the end of some divine judgement as he falls over on his arse, much to the crowd’s and his band’s amusement! This is rock n’ roll. The Bazookas have transported me from some second rate Wethersthingys to a theatre of rock n’ roll dreams. The singer is in particularly deranged form this evening, berating the weather (how British) and complaining bitterly that it couldn’t rain all day when the cricket was on (ooh very British again, I expected him to leave the gig and get into his Mini and drive back to the flat he shares with Hugh Grant in Notting Hill – which incidentally overlooks the Thames) and then embarks on a crowd pleasing bit of audience participation that felt so wonderfully barmy that you couldn’t help but want to get involved!

The middle of their set is apparently new material and show’s a definite jump up from what is already an impeccable standard. It’s noticeable too that people are walking by the venue and seeing the carnage taking place inside and they want a piece of the action. By the end of their set the place is packed and there’s no doubt that these boys are the real deal. Credibility points to me cos I saw ‘em first!

Next up is Danny from Afterglow. If ever you didn’t want a solo singer with an acoustic it’s right now. The atmosphere is utterly electric and poor Danny doesn’t even have Tom Cruise’s outlandish large hooter to fall back on in handling this Mission Impossible. To give Danny his credit, he’s got a lovely voice and has happily chosen a handful of covers that are easy on the ear. On a different night and on a bill that the promoters haven’t thrown together without having listened properly, he’d have been perfect.

And so to another odd twist in this rather strange bill. As Waster take to the stage you’re expecting an unholy noise. These guys are going to be hard. All dressed in Pantera style gear with long goatees and woolly hats, I’m saying a silent apology to my ears for the assault they’re about to receive. To top it all the singer is a proverbial man mountain. About 7 foot in either direction. As Withnail famously pondered, ‘Imagine the size of the f**ker’s balls!’

I’m knocked off my seat, then, when Waster get into gear and in fact their sound is pretty gentle. More Pixies than Pantera. It’s a shock to say the least, but a pleasant one, nevertheless. Obviously veterans to the live circuit, Waster have travelled all the way from York to be here tonight and their cold-nights-by-a-crackling-log-fire Northern timbre has everyone warming to them immediately. They don’t have the local partisan support but nevertheless are going down well with the friendly crowd. Occasionally, the set does veer towards the predicted harder sound, but it’s tempered by the huge singer’s surprisingly sweet voice. Give them credit, too, that in this age of ultra-hip Shoreditchite bands that they’re just doing their thing. It’s fair to say they’re never going to be on the cover of Smash Hits and probably don’t harbour ambitions to conquer the music world but are just happy going out and playing their guitars.

Against all the odds and no thanks to the skill-less promoters or the meagre venue it’s been a great night and it’s the bands that deserve the credit. I’m not keen on random venues trying to cash in on the sudden upturn of interest in the live scene and tonight is as transparent an example as I’ve seen but if we can get to see bands like The Bazookas and Waster for free I guess I’ll just have to be happy to be a cog in the machine!

20 July 2005: The Nudes + Husky – Bar Rumba, London, England, UK

Thanks to ongoing jitteriness on the Underground I’m fabulously late – although thankfully, it’s just a false alarm today. At the moment everyone’s a little nervous, but the show must go on and has gone on.

Can’t believe they didn’t wait for me! Husky are already well and truly into their stride and it’s a big Kelly Holmes of a stride. They’ve pulled a big and frankly, quite lairy crowd and they’re storming it. The guitarist has sliced his hands on his strings too and there’s blood everywhere. Well, there’s a bit of blood and anyway it’s all very rock n’ roll!

They’ve got the songs too and all in all these guys can really cut the mustard. They look awful and obviously in these image-obsessed times that just makes them all the more beguiling! Not sure if they’re Top of the Pops-bound but for now they’ll definitely be pulling a crowd on the London circuit.

The Nudes, however, are far less impressive. I guess it’s the disinterested, sullen New Yorker slacker vibe that they’re looking for but what they’re conveying to me is that they really can’t be arsed. There’s no urgency to their very Strokesy sound and after a short while even their partisan support of workmates starts to drift off to the bar. Bar Rumba is a fairly new addition to the live circuit and although being nice and dark, has the classic downside of having the bar in a separate part of the venue. Simply, you’ve got to be good or the bar starts looking very appealing.

They aren’t doing anything wrong – just nothing really that right. We’ve had three years of that broken down garage sound now, so there’s nothing new in it. Personally, I’m ready for something else, so unless you’ve got dazzling songs I’m just not bothered. They aren’t particularly tight either and although the singer’s a pretty infectious guy –and there’s a high ratio of females in the crowd, there’s no disguising that it’s back to the drawing board for The Nudes.

There’s a big last song, full of ‘woahs’ for their mates to join in and the smallish crowd boost the lack-lustre affair by demanding an encore. The Nudes duly oblige and are roundly congratulated by their mates after their big-ish finale. This stuff is fine if you’re a fan and with a bit of tightening up, more creative arrangement and catchier melodies The Nudes could well be in business. At the moment, though, I’ll be saving on the Basildon Bond as they’re nothing to write home about!

Chris Woods

15 July 2005: Queen + Razorlight + Peter Kay – Hyde Park, London, England, UK

Cheese and Cheese and Crackers.

OK, it was a moment of weakness when my mate called up and asked if I wanted to see Queen in Hyde Park. Flashing premonitions of synchronised handclaps and broken down choruses with the vocals left out, so the sun burnt masses can sing together fooled me into parting with 50 quid and so it’s off to Hyde Park.

It’s a beautiful day and I’ve managed to get near the front – well the Hyde Park front which is about half a mile from the stage, thanks to the ‘Golden Circle’ enclosure for blaggers, slaggers and laggers taking up the first 5 miles of Hyde Park. I’m only really bothered about seeing Peter Kay anyway and when he arrives, like a purple blimp on the horizon, the northern bumpkin is cheered to the rafters. A quick trawl through decidedly dubious lyrics of top hits warms everyone nicely for Razorlight, who impressively managed to subdue the atmosphere almost instantaneously.

Another case of the Emperor’s New Clothes disease afflicting guitar music with Razorlight, I think. They look good and certainly have a wonderful frontman but the songs just weren’t there. 20 minutes into the umpteenth massive snare-roll build-up, only to peter out into a far-less than ballsy rattle and the even the goodwill of this pumped-up-like-a-balloon-you-know-is-going-to-pop crowd is starting to deflate. A few nice melodies here and there but with chaotic song structuring and enormously over-indulgent arrangement, the achingly cool quickly became achingly aching!

A bit more Peter Kay, this time appearing as his alter-ego, wheelchair-bound Brian Potter was gratefully received by the now-huge crowd. A bad-taste medley of immobility, wheel-related songs left everyone addled with PC-fuelled guilt for laughing. How can something that feels so good be bad…?

And so to the main event. After a fantastically prolonged set of intros comprising of some very-atmospheric 80s style reverb laden guitar (great… if you like that sort of thing) and then some house tune that Freddy did, which was rubbish – even the diehards weren’t bothered, before finally and utterly bizarrely the band took to the stage to the strains of Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’. A brave choice, with congruity going straight out of the window! Did it work? No. A whole section of the crowd were obviously well over 40 and as such had little clue what on earth was going on. If felt a bit like when you were at school and had to go places with your parents. Cringe-worthy moment number one of the set and as yet May et al haven’t played a note!

And so, at last the show gets under way and as you’d expect it’s a barrage of huge hits, taken from Queen’s impressive back catalogue but also from guest frontman Paul Rodgers’ days with Free. You can’t help but like them and their wildly OTT cheesy rock antics. Rodgers is in particularly stunning cheesy form, looking like the cool teacher at the school disco. Admirably too, the band have donated thousands of tickets to London’s Emergency Services, who receive a massive cheer. A touching air of defiance is present as drummer Roger Taylor refers to last weeks tragic events and cheekily shouts ‘business as usual’. Good point, well made.

As the poignant mood grows, May, Taylor and Rodgers move to the end of the gangway, deep into the audience and announce they’re going to do a song by ‘the greatest ever rock star –after Freddy’ to huge cheers from the partisan crowd. What followed was a decimation of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. Some songs should not be covered by cheesy rawk gods wearing leather trousers and white trainers. The sentiment was nice but the realisation of it was not. Cringe-worthy moment number 2 firmly achieved!

In actual fact, as the rock legends continued to slam out classic after classic, including a surprisingly subtle tribute to Freddy, it’s virtually non-stop cringe-worthy moments. I didn’t realise bands actually do say ‘you’re beautiful’ to the audience and when Rodgers screams ‘you can’t stop the rock’, I realised new heights of Spinal cheesiness had been scaled. It’s great fun, just a bit embarrassing!

And so I defy you, when you next go to a wedding or birthday or some other big shindig and the DJ slips on ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ or ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ to not tap your feet. Can’t be done. However cheesy, these guys really are part of rock history and standing in the sunshine singing some of the most famous songs ever written, played by the band that wrote and first performed them is pretty much a one-off experience.

Just hope no-one saw me!

Chris Woods

10 July 2005: Da Riddim Squad + The Bazookas – Newham Festival Music Stage, London, England, UK

A sun-soaked crowd in Central Park, East Ham, was treated to a day of free live music, as a selection of East London’s finest musicians and bands took to the open-air stage.

Kicking off around 2am slightly risqué hosts, Break FM’s Matt and Spencer introduced us to an eclectic series of acts, before the afternoon really warmed up, as Ella and Dreadkey captured the sunny mood with beautiful rnb tinged acoustic numbers that showcased the stunning Ella’s incredible voice perfectly.

The audience grew steadily as The Strand and Michaelsband both punched out feel-good funky indie, before the excellent Urban Dove mellowed the crowd with some chilled reggae.

Next up the much-talked about The Bazookas. Throughout the day these lads, dressed all in black complete with the requisite chains, sunglasses and over-the-top-hairstyles, had been sauntering around the stage area, dripping with too-cool-for-school attitude. They were going to have to be very good to live up to their hype!

And were they! The sleepy, chilled out vibe was ripped apart as the East London quartet launched into a blistering non-stop three-song opener, topped off with The Bangles classic, ‘Walk like An Egyptian’. Despite the stifling heat The Bazookas frightened us with their incredible energy and the crowd responded with huge cheers of approval. The middle of their awesome set was, according to the seemingly somewhat deranged frontman, new material and judging by the crowd reaction you can expect to hear the same songs on a much bigger stage in the not too distant future.

The lads topped off the day mischievously encouraging the crowd to take the next day off work with the anthemic ‘Phone In Sick Tomorrow’ and then, with a huge finale paid tribute to the heroes of World War 2 on VJ Day with a mighty version of the wartime classic ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The lads departed the stage to a great ovation and left everyone convinced they are certainly destined for the Big Time.

Last up, the summery vibe of Da Riddim Squad’s reggae was a fitting end to a hot and sticky day and was joyously received by the crowd by now numbering a few thousand. A series of frontmen each brought their own unique flavour to Da Squad’s hypnotic basslines and by the end of their huge set Newham had achieved new heights yet again to end a fantastic week for the borough.

Chris WWoods

08 July 2005: Levellers – National Forest Folk Festival, Leicestershire, England, UK

08 July 2005: Levellers - National Forest Folk Festival, Leicestershire, England, UK

Yes, “Your mind can go away”…

But I’ll get back to that later.

So that map said left onto the B5030, off the A511, but was it sign posted? No. Did it say how far along The A511? No. Several miles further and I decided it was about time to turn left even though I still hadn’t seen the right road and I asked a chap on a bike. Directions were acquired and off I went again. Down to the end and turn right, check. And then a little further and turn right. But I’d been going for miles and there were no signs and no sign of the venue, so I slowed down past a pub, and looked round hopefully.

And there, sat outside, enjoying their drinks, were Jon and Mark.

So then I knew I was on the right track and 150 yards further down the road was the car park.

The venue was a fairly large amphitheatre with a fixed, tent like cover over the top of it. You could also sit outside on the grass banks and I settled down to chill out and wait for the Levellers.

This was their first gig since their acclaimed performance on the Jazz stage at the Glastonbury Festival and they were rocking.

The band appeared on stage and appealed for everyone to move forward (and therefore unavoidably crush the line of security people across the front of the stage) as, as Mark put it, “We’re not used to gaps at the front”.

We got “The Game”, “England My Home” and “Make U Happy”, near the start. Simon took over the vocal duties for “For Us All” and was left on his own on stage for “When Love Runs Out Of Time” (which seemed to have an extra bit at the end).

“Last Man Alive” was greeted like an old friend and the crowd stepped up a gear for “Sell Out” and “Together All The Way”.

There were shouts somewhere around this time for “Just The One”, but Mark replied that he’d given up drinking so that was a definite no-no (I don’t believe him, but he alluded to this at Leicester with Rev Hammer as well).

Instead Boaksey appeared with his didgeridoo, in full make up and we were launched into “3 Friends” (which surprised me, because I was expecting “This Garden” for some reason). “3 Friends” was quickly followed by “One Way” and as always the crowd responded again, with the line of security people in front of the stage taking a severe battering from the mosh pit.

“Liberty” was played somewhere in the middle of all this, with Jeremy bouncing up and down with his bass, head back in exultation, as if the world depended on it.

After “Burford Stomp” Mark announced that they’d been going for a speed record, and a think they just about made it, though how they ever play that fast I will never know.

And then, “Riverflow”. Full on speed rush, with the entire crowd singing along.

I can’t remember the order of the tracks in the encores, as I was too busy dancing, but there were definitely at least two encores, and they definitely played “What A Beautiful Day” (“This one’s for the people in Moira, who’ll know this one”), “Battle Of The Beanfield”, and “What You Know”, and there may have been more.

And yes, “Your mind can go away”.

Simon’s in virtual hysterics, Jons struggling not to laugh and I couldn’t see the rest of them at this point. Except Mark, who having forgotten the words to “What You Know” at the “Your mind can go away” bit and then filled for a bit and then sung “That’s it, ‘Yes your mind can go away’” appeared not to know whether to laugh or cry, at one point holding his head in mock despair, and then laughing his head off. Before coming back to the mike for the next verse with a postcard with the words written down on.

People often ask me why I go to see the Levellers so much. All the shows must be the same after a while.

But, there are so many reasons. They are the best live band in the country. They make records that I love. They have songs that can move you to tears. And sometimes they make you laugh, hysterically. To put it simply, they make me happy.

Then they were gone, Jeremy waving at us as he went with a towel on his head.

They played nothing off “Zeitgeist”, nothing off “Mouth to Mouth” (I think, except “What A Beautiful Day”), nothing off “Green Blade Rising” and nothing off “Hello Pig” and we still got two hours of excellent, full on rocking/rolling/punking/folking music, and we all went away very, very happy. Show me a band that can give you a roaring show for two hours and barely touch four of their records and you’ll be pointing at the Levellers.

And I’ve got my December tickets already!

06 July 2005: R.E.M. + The Zutons + Idlewild – City Ground, Nottingham, England, UK

06 July 2005: R.E.M. + The Zutons + Idlewild - City Ground, Nottingham, England, UK

Well this was a long time coming. The tickets were booked in September time and by Christmas I had almost forgotten that I was going. I was also convinced (when I remembered) that it was on a Saturday night. I probably misheard. Wednesday. Saturday. Sound similar? No. Thought not. Well, perhaps the last bit.

I parked up at about 7ish and made my way towards the City Ground with the sounds of Idlewild wafting across the River Trent towards me. I quite like Idlewild and have seen them once before, but I am not too familiar with their output.

Apparently, this was the first gig at this venue and it seemed well organised, apart from the fact that it said “Enter via gate B” on the tickets, which according to a steward meant gate any. I got issued with my wristband and entered the ground. The Stage was at the Bridgford end and the pitch had been covered with squares of tough plastic to protect the grass (you could just about see it peeking through the gaps).

Idlewild got the crowd going, but seemed to be fighting a bit of a losing battle, as, at this stage of the evening, it was a fairly sparse crowd. You should be able to see Idlewild’s setlist here.

After Idlewild left the stage, I went for a wander round. The merchandise stall was situated just about where the goal would be at the Trent end and appeared to be selling mainly REM merchandise. At about this time it started to rain. That cold, wet type of rain, that doesn’t appear to be doing much, but after about half an hour you realise you’re starting to freeze and your hairs soaked. Anyway, on went everyone’s wet weather kit and we all stood around looking like extras from the set of Waterworld.

The Zutons took to the stage and the mood inside the venue immediately brightened up. A band after my own heart (if you come on stage wearing the two greatest colours you will immediately get my support before you’ve played a note), The Zutons appeared resplendent in black and orange and proceeded to entertain us for the next hour and a bit. They certainly got the crowd going and judging by the number of their shirts about quite a few people had come along just to see them. It was quite a good set and included “Pressure Point”, along with a number of others. At one point everyone who had bunked off work to attend (the gates opened at 16:00 hours) was asked to put their arms in the air. There was a muted response and The Zutons said “If this had been Liverpool, I’d have just seen a sea of hands”. By the time The Zutons left the stage, it had started raining again.

The venue had begun to fill up, but even when REM had appeared it still seemed to be half empty. The Trent end was about 1/8th full, the Brian Clough Stand was about ¾ full, and the main stand was about ½ full. The amount of people on the pitch was about half what I expected, and barely stretched to the mixing desk, and it was fairly easy to move towards the front and get a good view.

I first wanted to see REM on the Green tour, just as they were becoming massive, having bought “Document”, “Life’s Rich Pageant” and “Reckoning”, but as Stipe said later, to a loud cheer. “The last time we were in Nottingham was at Rock City in November 1984” and I hadn’t made the effort to travel to see them anywhere since, so I was looking forward to it.

I think they started with “Bad Day”, Michael Stipe with painted blue face stripe, visiting every corner of the stage and receiving the cheers of the crowd wherever he went. Next up was “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth”, but after this my memory is a little hazy (I think it was the cold).

REM certainly took a break after the third number, Michael Stipe sitting down on a monitor and explaining to us that we were witnessing an event that had never before occurred. Michael Stipe changing into trainers for his stage performance as, he explained, for once the crowd weren’t the only ones getting wet, as the rain was blowing straight onto the stage and his stage shoes were not going to keep him standing up. He told us an anecdote which was about Cher, professionalism and not falling on your arse on stage, but I missed a lot of it as my hood had gone up to prevent the wettest rain of the evening from running down my neck.

Later we were treated to the hilarious site of Stipe, dancing barefoot by this time, jumping from towel to towel that had been laid out on stage around his mike stand because the stage floor had become so saturated.

Other songs were “Outsiders” (introduced by Stipe saying “Ever since I was first born into the world I have felt like an outsider”, cue crowd “Ahh”, and Stipe “No, no, it’s ok, I’ve found my place now”), “Wanderlust”, “Everybody Hurts, “Electron Blue” and “Leaving New York”, which received a huge roar from the audience.

Next it was, in my opinion, the best part of the evening with (everyone knew what was next when the megaphone appeared) “Orange Crush”, “One I Love” and “Losing My Religion”, after which REM left the stage.

We knew they were coming back though and so the crowd sat back and watched the video screens show where the tour had been so far, flashing each cities name up in giant orange letters until we got to Nottingham, when a great cheer went up and the giant displays shone “Nottingham” out four times on each of the two screens set at each side of the stage, until the band came back on stage.

For the encore we got “Nightswimming” (which was excellent), a couple of others that escape me, and finally “DJ” and “Man On The Moon”. I think we would probably have got “Teenage Kicks” as well as they apparently played this at Hull the previous evening, but for Stipe saying to us half way through the encore that we could either have two, and stay as wet as we were, or four more songs, and get even wetter. Of course we all cheered for four.

Unfortunately, after the next track, Stipe started to introduce the band, got interrupted by what sounded like thunder, said “Was that thunder? We’ll get a move on”, rushed the band introductions and exited stage right after “DJ” and “Man On The Moon”.

I can’t blame him really, as standing on a stage in a thunderstorm is one of the last places I’d want to be.

The thunderstorm thankfully never materialised, and I just had to walk back to the car in the cold, wet rain.

This was a great evening’s entertainment. REM were in great form, although I expect that they have had better nights, in better conditions and if they come my way again, I will definitely be buying a ticket.

It was just a shame for them that the gig seemed to be fairly sparsely attended and that the great British summer decided to produce a blast of arctic conditions at the wrong time.

Never mind, the weather was bearable and I’ve warmed up now.

And I would have felt even finer had they played it. right? Right.