Category Archives: manchester

A Delightful Proposition

I’ve written about Deer Tick here before. They’re a band I’ve loved for a while and when I caught their show in Manchester a couple of months back, they blew me away. In fact, I said as much. The piece was published by Fresh Underground Culture Magazine and the band saw it and they liked it. Or in their own words: “I think it’s the only review of them that we’ve ever LOVED.”

I had an email from the manager Ian last week asking me if they could use the piece as their official bio. I can’t say how happy and honoured I am. It’s tough to get a little bit of recognition in this game, so when it comes as good as this, I feel a bit humbled. The thing is, I didn’t get paid for the piece and it’s not very often that I do. Music journalism is a mug’s game in many respects. The joy of seeing your name in print fades with time. It really is a labour of love, so when the fruits of your labour gain recognition like that, it makes it all seem worthwhile.

I’ll post a link here when it becomes available.

Ardentjohn @ Dry Bar, Manchester, 29 January

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Manchester lately and over the course my visits, I’ve been to a few great gigs including Rodrigo Y Gabriela, The Pogues and Deer Tick. But on Friday night we decided we would take in a couple of local bands. My girlfriend’s friend James Kelly was playing at an unsigned night at Dry Bar (a venue I’m told is experiencing a massive downturn. It did look pretty shoddy on Friday).

On the way in though, I noticed a name I recognised on the roster of acts: Ardentjohn. I first encountered the Islanders at Leith Festival about four years ago. From there, I reviewed a single and their debut album, before meeting the band for a pint and a chat (I think) in the Best Western Hotel. They had also recently been in contact regarding their new album and kindly sent me a copy. I was delighted to happen upon them, having been impressed by their new LP.

On The Wire continues on a similarly blissed-out trajectory to their debut set, When The Time Comes. I remember comparing them to The Verve previously. The comparison is tenuous enough upon revisiting their work, but I think I was getting at their tendency to drift into pseudo-psychedelic acoustic noodling. Seeing them live, I was impressed by their solidity as a unit. They’ve added a cellist to the mix, which certainly augments what they had before. It builds on what was already a rich, organic sound. Their songs seem remarkably well rounded, the songwriting is confident (and has grown in this respect) and their performance was self-contained. The highlight of their set, though, was an early song: Orange Nights.

I spoke to lead singer Keiron Mason before they went on. He’d just spotted Guy Garvey in the crowd and was cursing his luck. “I wish I’d noticed him after we’d finished our set!” He needn’t have been nervous. Their set was enjoyable and a refreshing reminder of what a good band they are. The smallish Manchester crowd seemed to share my appreciation and it was great to bump into them again. Small world.

Deer Tick: The Unlikely Saviours of Live Music

Because sometimes, just sometimes, it’s alright to rock out with your cock out…

Written for FUCM

Remember the good ol’ days? You remember, back when Pluto was still a planet? People used to laugh, regularly. They would shout, maybe have a little drinkie and, y’know, enjoy themselves? Oh, nostalgia! And, sometimes, people would go to concerts and shows and they would have what was known as “a good time”. Man, those were the days. Sometimes, even the band would join in. Maybe they’d had a tipple, too. They would play their instruments out of tune and at breakneck speeds. Occasionally, there might be harsh words exchanged… fisticuffs even. But they didn’t give a fuck, and that’s why we loved them, why we wanted to be them and why we wanted to be with them.

Deer Tick

Then something very bad happened. In a heinous, puritanical move designed to destroy rock and roll abandon, a witch hunt ensued. Spearheaded by a MOR music media, the “rock-star stereotype” gradually became a bad thing. The Evian sponsored falling star of flamboyant excess was soundtracked by a lead singer hell-bent on explaining how the agonizing autumnal hues really remind him of his missus slipping off with his best friend last September. Iggy Pop was stripped for parts and sold off to an insurance company and Johnny Rotten was bartered off to the jungle in exchange for his weight in butter. Even Ryan Adams was manhandled onto the wagon for long enough to make a couple of horrible records.

Okay, so I made some of that up. But y’see, until this week, live music had become about as exciting for me as discussing risk with Sting, whilst watching The English Patient. I was getting pretty much fed up of going to gigs and seeing people (not even just the bands) staring at their shoes. Maybe they’d give their toes the odd tap, give a little whistle, before politely applauding the efforts of the entertainment. But overall, the level of charisma had fallen to sub-zero levels. I mean, where had all the cowboys gone? And what the fuck ever happened to chicken wire?

Last week, in the unlikely setting of leafy Mancunian suburbia, I had a stick of dynamite inserted up my arse, courtesy of Rhode Island pseudo-hillbillies Deer Tick. I was blown away. It didn’t take a genius to work out that John McCauley, lead singer, band leader, guitar virtuoso and self-appointed class clown was completely slaughtered. Nor did his Old Glory, blazing guitars adorned, threadbare t-shirt leave us in any kind of doubt as to what we were to expect… he looked like he’d just crawled up the banks of the Mississippi. He announced he’d been drinking vodka all day. We all cheered. He stuck his head in an ice box full of beer. We cheered louder. He announced he was going to take his pants off. And, well, you get the picture.

There are many reasons why Deer Tick are an excellent band. Here are mine. Firstly, they have great songs. War Elephant is a great album. The follow up, Born on Flag Day is just as strong. Alt-country is a curious genre, often misconstrued, misrepresented and misunderstood. Well, for me, this lot here’s a contemporary blueprint. There’s country (duh), punk, blues, folk, grunge and garage rock. Even their choice of cover versions – Replacements, Michael Hurley, John Prine, The Sex Pistols and Chuck Berry – goes a long way to pinning down their sound.

McCauley’s voice is a hybrid of Kurt Cobain and Gary Louris from the Jayhawks. Sometimes he sounds like he’s been gargling gravel with moonshine. He can croon, he can yelp and he can shout. He’s a superb lead singer, backed by a talented, if mostly acquiescent unit. They recently recruited guitarist Ian O’Neil from New Jersey noiseniks Titus Andronicus, which allows McCauley more freedom to noodle, drink more beer, or, um, get his cock out.

They know how to play their songs live. By that, I don’t mean they can robotically churn out high fidelity renditions of their records, which I am pretty sure they can. In the flesh, these guys sound completely different than they do through your speakers. It sounds like a lazy observation to make, but when Deer Tick play live, they sound live. They sound louder, rawer and more raucous than anyone who’s heard their records could’ve thought possible. They improvise, they play requests, they invite people onto the stage, they throw balls to the wall, and it all sticks.

Here is a band awake to the raison d’etre of a live show – to entertain. Sometimes, they (see: McCauley) act like douchebags. They kick each other in the arse when performing an acapella encore. Hell, the drummer even takes off his boots so he can aim a better pot-shot at his singer’s rear. When the audience ask something of them they respond, no matter how ridiculous the demand. One excited, most likely traumatized, reveller barks an order to play some Sex Pistols, in honour of his mother, who died yesterday. It raises a slightly confused smirk from McCauley, who launches into a solo take on Holidays in the Sun, barely an eyelid batted.

When the support act, Megafaun, join Deer Tick on stage for a rollicking cover of Can’t Hardly Wait, McCauley proudly announces he’s going to do it in “true Replacements style”, which as far as I can tell, is shorthand for “sans pants.” Watching him thrash about the stage with his jocks round his ankles is bizarrely refreshing. He looks like he might fall on his face, but it doesn’t stop him from shuffling about, duelling guitars with O’Neil and generally acting the maggot. And this is what I’ve missed about live music. With Deer Tick, there was no self-consciousness, no posturing, no agenda and no bullshit. They didn’t give a fuck, and I loved it.

Maybe it was partly due to the unlikely venue – the overpriced beer, the tasteful artwork, the polished finish on the bar-top – but this disgustingly ramshackle performance took me by surprise, and reminded me that not all live shows turn out to be a damp squib. The histrionic resent I felt when listening to Nirvana Live at Reading on its release a few weeks back has slowly subsided. A bunch of scrawny, drunk kids from Rhode Island have rekindled my appetite for live music. And it didn’t even need the chicken wire. FB

Video: Deer Tick – Diamond Rings 2007 (Live in New York)

A New Development

I recently had my first piece published for Fresh Underground Culture Magazine which I am pretty chuffed about. They are a Melbourne based magazine, with global contributors. I will be contributing features and band pieces. The rag is an Australian based eco-political, satirical, free press publication. I will hopefully be making regular contributions. You can view my profile here and the piece in question here. I’ll also stick it on the blog.

The Pogues @ Manchester Apollo, 13 Dec

Shane Macgowan, lookin’ fierce well

Inevitability: the cornerstone of the festive season. Just as you’re guaranteed to keel over in a satisfied slumber having consumed your body weight in turkey on Christmas day, you’re duty bound to receive at least one gift you have absolutely no use for, most likely from a distant aunt. And as sure as you’ll bemoan the unending stream of Christmas music emanating from jukeboxes, pub bands and televisions, you’re certain to sing along to Fairytale in New York on at least one boozed up festive evening.

That The Pogues have become a predictable fixture on this month’s calendar is ironic, given that they possess one of the most mercurial and downright reckless front-men in the business. And even if Shane MacGowan’s perma-sozzled state has long since become a convention in itself, it makes for a hell of a live show.

As he follows the cacophonic and largely inept support act The Marseilles Figs onto the stage, it’s perfectly clear that Shane’s been hitting the Christmas sherry pretty hard (the bottle in his hand is a dead giveaway). The capacity crowd at the Apollo, who, to a man, seem to have joined him in toasting the season, erupt. MacGowan was always unlikely to disappoint. With the focus generally on his wayward lifestyle, though, it’s easy to forget just how good and how original The Pogues were. Tonight serves as a reminder, as they steamroll through almost three decades of hits, fusing their traditional Irish roots with the wilder, punkier side that’s come to define them.

Just as MacGowan is determined to play the errant frontman, the rest of the band are hell-bent on keeping the ship afloat: the musicianship is first class. Careering through faster numbers like Sally MacLeannane, Irish Rover and Fiesta was always likely to send the crowd into raptures, just as the slower tracks were bound to induce much swaying and arm-swinging. MacGowan is joined by a backing choir of thousands as he croons his way through Dirty Old Town and Rainy Night in Soho. Despite being unable to muster a coherent sentence in discourse, his voice sounds remarkably good, befitting the scenes of debauchery unfolding before him.

Proceedings, as expected, are rounded up with Fairytale of New York, MacGowan joined at the mic by a slightly more clear-headed beau. Inevitably, their efforts are drowned out by those of the crowd, before exiting stage to a fanatical and deserved ovation. In such an uncertain age, a little bit of surety can be comforting and welcome, as proved by The Pogues tonight.



First published in The Skinny