Brix & The Extricated The Duchess November 24, 2015
Brix Smith was an integral member of The Fall, between 1983 and 1989, then again, on-and-off, betwixt 1993 and 1998. Well, she was married to main man vocalist, poet and Svengali auteur Mark E. Smith. This period of the Manchester combo's output featured some of their most accessible material, unavoidably influenced by American garage rock, Brix's melodic grit sprinkled across Mark E.'s caustic verbal spew. Now, she's known as Brix Smith-Start, adding the name of her post-MES husband, fashion entrepreneur Philip Start. A surprise return to the world of The Fall was triggered by a connection made with bassist Steve Hanley (time done: 1979- 1998), on the publication eve for his autobiographical book Big Midweek: Life Inside The Fall. Together, they cooked up the grand wheeze of getting together a group of ex-Fall members to re-visit the classic songbook. This is a particularly worthwhile endeavour, as MES is notoriously opposed to backward-looking renditions of any songs that are older than 18 months, unless they are amongst his characteristically well-chosen cover versions.
So, once they formed The Extricated (named after MES's 1990 post-divorce album, Extricate), this crew have been airing songs that are two or three decades old, played by some old hands who were critical elements in their original recording. Hanley roped in his brother Paul, who drummed for The Fall between 1980 and 1984, and the crew was completed by guitarists Jason Brown and Steve Trafford, the latter on Fall-board between 2004 and 2006.
At The Duchess, "US 80s-90s" provided an early high point, grinding anthemically, Brix solving the potential problem of matching the MES delivery by side-stepping his phrasing and tone, choosing a completely different tack. She was struggling with some of the more melodic attempts, but mostly took a convincing detour, surmounting what could have been a massive obstacle.The old, deliberate murking of lines turned into a more clearly enunciated rock traditionalism, ditching mimicry and gaining clarity of diction, at least when laid beside that of MES. So, we had a diluted style, but with some newly-discernible couplets.
Aping The Fall's choice choosing of cover song material, The Extricated elected to offer "Ball Of Confusion" (The Temptations), which doesn't appear to have ever been tackled by MES and company. As Brix observed, its words remain apt today, and this is surely a number that might have been considered for Fall reproduction in the past. Ramming back into more typical selections, Hanley shone brightly during "Lay Of The Land," his bass line combining persistent doggedness and nimble fingering, great drive with great dexterity. Brother Paul was also revealing himself as a fine falsetto vocal specialist, a strong element in several of the set's highlights. Of course, he was also locking tight with Steve Hanley, forming a meaty rhythm attack. The guitars were more of a general wall, without any fancy parts, just set for prime riffage, with Brix sometimes downing her axe to concentrate on the vocals. Unexpectedly, though, the mightiest songs of the evening were from the pre- Brix early 1980s, stemming from the Hanley brothers (all of the Extricated repertoire consists of songs co-written by its members), with "Totally Wired" and "Hip Priest" developing a taut, nervy, twisted tension.
Jim Boyes & Belinda O'Hooley The Black Swan November 26, 2015
This was a different kind of booking for The Black Swan Folk Club, involving a multi-media presentation, if only on a fairly basic level. This wasn't a fast-flicking torrent of images, tightly snapped to a brisk song-flow. The presentation was more relaxed, still with musical material at its heart, but with a slow clicking of text and images to accompany the tunes. Scarborough singer Jim Boyes released Sensations Of A Wound as an album, beginning live performances towards the end of 2013. He's the Boyes in Coope, Boyes & Simpson, the renowned a capella trio, but this is a very personal project, casting a gaze back at the First World War experiences of his grandfather, Robert 'Croppie' Boyes. Typically for many war-zone survivors, Croppie didn't often articulate his doubtless grim memories, but Boyes unearthed some personal writings from 1933, and was inspired to pen a set of songs, to be heard together as part of a themed collection.
Boyes was joined on this project by keyboardist Belinda O'Hooley, her sound-settings firmly in acoustic piano mode, her backing deliberately skirting around in the background, coming to the fore as a song built, receding further whilst Boyes spun out his tale. The segues between speech and songs were subtly handled, the experience flowing very organically. Surely the opening "Down Upon The Dugout Floor" must be one of the best, most compulsively gripping folk songs penned in recent years, and Boyes knows this, as he reprised the number later on in the set.
Unusually, the club's local opening acts clustered right at the beginning of the evening rather than also opening up the second half, so as not to break up the mood established by Boyes and O'Hooley. Even so, most of the artists chose to include songs that related to the war (or peace) subject.
There might have been some weaknesses in the storytelling delivery, Boyes seeming like he's not accustomed to bearing this weight, but the authority was always re-instated once he resumed the song-form. Several times, Boyes used traditional (or almost-traditional) song melodies ("Scarborough Fair," "I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside"), adding his own words, altering into another entity which nevertheless triggered responses from the original, making a sour mix of the sombre and the silly. Another small gripe is that it was quite distracting to have the song-lyrics frozen onscreen for the duration of each ditty: good for singalongs, but bad for folks who couldn't resist skipping ahead rather than listening to the words unfold gradually. With "By The Seaside," it was unity through distress, as the air of jollity barely obscured dark sentiments. "Ballad Of The Hero" was sung in Italian, "Testament" in Dutch, and "In The Bleak Midwinter" was also prey to transmogrification, a darkened pre-Christmas carol.
Electric Six Fibbers November 30, 2015
Detroit's Electric Six have become regular visitors to Fibbers, and even though they missed out last year, lead singer Dick Valentine played a small pub gig on May Day of 2015. This time, he returned with the entire band, cramming a goodly number of punters into this recently-moved club. This is the kind of combo that doesn't take long to gear up to a celebratory atmosphere, with their wry humour, raunchy rock and retro disco beats. A listen to the latest album, Bitch, Don't Let Me Die!, mostly finds the Electric Six becoming almost indistinguishable from a heavy rock outfit. It helps to catch them in the flesh, to witness the attitude that couples with the riffs, to discern the satirical content, to see Valentine in full ironic mode, flanked by his retro- dudester colleagues. It's a multi-dimensional experience that isn't immediately apparent via mere audio immersion. Still, it's a hit single like "Danger! High Voltage" that best represents their stance, but the new album's "Dime, Dime, Penny Dime" is equally striking, coming on as a blend of The Mavericks, Johnny Cash and The Cramps. A twin lead guitar pronging provided added frazzle whilst Valentine paused between lines, the ultimate orientation mostly hard- psychedelic.
Dick Gaughan The Black Swan December 2, 2015
The Scottish folk king Dick Gaughan is also a repeat visitor to York, apparently ascending to this upstairs club (via its ancient kinked stairway) on a bi-annual basis, usually around the same time of the year. This was the first of two sold out nights. It must be said that your scribe had spent many years being immune to Gaughan's charms, but a recent audio re-acquaintance had planted a seed of enthusiasm to catch him for the first time. His voice has a pinched, nasal quality, deliberately reined in and dry, presumably passing through a much-quieter-than-usual p.a. at his own request. He spent a lot of his two sets adjusting the microphone, his guitar and his stool-arrangement, muttering in- between his songs and his more projected anecdotes. Despite being a good raconteur, Gaughan gives the impression that communication is an effort, particularly when set beside the frequently loquacious spinners of tales that regularly visit this club.
When singing, his phrasing is highly mannered, often a positive sign when experiencing the inner worlds of the heavy stylist. He also had a bit of a cough, so perhaps wasn't feeling in his best state. A pair of old hands were overheard in the gentlemen's toilet, during the break, suggesting that Gaughan's commanding power wasn't emanating as intensely as in the days of yore. He wafted through an air, "The Mountain Of The Women," curiously imparting the belief that an interpreter needs to know the words, even for an instrumental version, which certainly made sense once Gaughan's delicately spidery guitaring danced along. Another unusual stretch came right at the close, with his reading of Johnny Cash's "Apache Tears."
Queen Kwong The Duchess December 15, 2015
Being 'discovered' and mentored at age 17 by Trent Reznor (he of Nine Inch Nails) was an undoubted early profile boost for Carré Callaway, a singer-guitarist from Los Angeles. Around a decade later she's touring England in front of Queen Kwong, penning songs that are not dissimilar in style to those of Hole and Babes In Toyland, possibly with a yearning to sound like PJ Harvey. At least Callaway manages to duck aside from mainline heavy rock traits, encouraging a sound that's considerably more abrasive, degraded and angular. In fact, the rampant maleness of The Stooges could well be her primary influence, particularly apparent when Queen Kwong are performing in the flesh. Even though Callaway has the moves and attitude, her vocals can't really match up to the levels attained by Pop, Harvey, Courtney Love or Kat Bjelland, all of whom are powerfully abrasive and precisely channelled, even if they're screaming. Nevertheless, Callaway has a suitable lung-power compared to many, bolstered by a chunkily aggressive band.
Wes Boreland's guitar was a barely controlled beast of fuzzed feedback, very much in the spirit of Stooges axeman Ron Asheton. Drummer Hayden Scott and bassist Fred Sablan meshed tightly with Callaway and Boreland, bringing a desperate energy that recalled that of The Birthday Party. Sablan's distorted bass brutality was outstanding. Unfortunately, the attendance on this Tuesday night was very sparse, and Callaway only started to escalate her performance around 10 minutes from the end of Kwong's 50 minute set, beginning to reveal her improvisatory nature, prowling the stage and drawing the audience to the front. And much as your scribe likes to rock, the Kwong volume levels were pretty ridiculously upped, considering the size of the venue.
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