Seth Lakeman celebrates twentieth anniversary of Kitty Jay at Birmingham Town Hall

Words and pics by Emily Doyle

On 28 February, Seth Lakeman’s tour party rolled into Birmingham for an evening at the Town Hall.

It’s twenty years since the Devonshire folk artist appeared in the public consciousness with the release of Mercury Prize nominated Kitty Jay, and in celebration they’re treating audiences to the album in full.

A hushed crowd fills Birmingham Town Hall as Lakeman and co kick off their first set with the opening four tracks of said album. Everything sounds just as haunting as it did two decades ago. Lakeman’s vocals are unchanged, a crisp and measured tone cushioned by tenor guitar and double bass. Vocalist Alex Hart deftly weaves melodies around Lakeman’s tales of Dartmoor folklore.

Towards the end of the first set, the band drops away and Lakeman walks to the front of the stage. Commenting on the great acoustics of the hall, he announces he’s going to do the next track off-mic. What follows is the highlight of the evening.

‘Farewell My Love’ is a raw, forlorn tune that sees Lakeman in call and response with himself. Pitch perfect fiddle is answered by a warbling vocal, set to a minimal drone that challenges how much can be done with how little.

There’s pin-drop silence in the busy room. The lack of amplification feels timeless and primal.

To a wave of applause Lakeman steps back over to the mic for the title track, ‘Kitty Jay’ – a fiddle tour de force which originally catapulted him into the spotlight back in 2005 when he performed it live on TV at the Mercury Awards. Percussionist (and Royal Birmingham Conservatoire member) Cormac Byrne reappears on stage to bring the track home, before we go to an interval.

For the second set Lakeman seems glad to get away from the dark sound of Kitty Jay and into the more jovial sounds of his later work. The atmosphere in the room shifts noticeably as favourites like ‘Lady of the Sea’ and ‘Take No Rogues’ get the crowd dancing in their seats.

A rockier, more American-sounding side to Lakeman’s work comes through – though he brings it back to basics in the encore with a joyous rendition of ‘Scrumpy’s Set’, one of his early compositions arranged for fiddle, bodhrán, and guitar.

It’s celebratory, and rightly so; everyone in the room is beaming ear to ear.

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“It hurts. Why am I enjoying myself so much?” – post punk noise rockers Gilla Band headline The Castle and Falcon

Words by Matthew Osborne / Pics by Emily Doyle

Dublin’s Gilla Band are riding the crest of a wave of noise-punk bands currently enjoying a surge in popularity and critical acclaim. They are joined at The Castle and Falcon this evening by the equally abrasive and experimental French noiseniks, The Psychotic Monks, for the first date of their UK Tour.

There is a sense of expectation in the cosy little front room of the venue before doors open for the gig, with The Psychotic Monks being as eagerly anticipated as the headliners. It is the end of another frenetic working week for most of us, and a couple of slightly dazed looking gents in full suits remind us all of that. We are here to relax.

Although relaxing isn’t a word that springs to mind when describing either of tonight’s acts. Gilla Band’s second album, The Talkies, begins with a close mic recording of singer Dara Kiley having a panic attack.

But whilst both acts produce music which is harsh, atonal, and unforgiving, these anxiety-laden walls of noise are bringing in the punters tonight – and the main room at The Castle and Falcon (for me, one of Birmingham’s best live venues) soon fills up.

The Psychotic Monks take the stage quietly, tinkering with machines and sending a rhythmic pulse through the audience, before slamming us with two gut punchers influenced heavily by the dirtiest German techno. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Dussaux writhes to his panel of buttons and wires like Jimmy Somerville channelling Ian Curtis and, despite the unflinching harshness of the music, all four members look to be having a great time.

Just as I think I’ve got the hang of the band they morph into a more abrasive Sonic Youth-informed monster with a perverted but welcome sense of melody, before closing their set with a stunning and sprawling song called ‘Décors’.

This is fronted by guitarist Martin Bejuy, who downs tools in favour of thrashing about the stage, unhinged, and, foot on monitor, goads those of us brave enough to be standing on the front row with a dangerously untethered microphone stand.

Gilla Band have a tough act to follow. Making it harder is a drunk guy flailing about at the front. He tries to shake Dara Kiley’s hand, and when he is rejected he grabs for his leg instead. Knowing that Dara suffers from anxiety (and reading the grimaces on the faces of those nearest the drunkard) I tense up, bracing for an inevitable confrontation.

Thankfully, security wade through the crowd and eject him a couple of songs into the set, leaving the rest of us free to finally unwind to an hour’s worth of concrete static, air raid siren guitars, and shrieked vocals. Ah… pure bliss.

There is something cathartic in this kind of music. Not everyone is able to chill out to whale noises, gong massages, and finger cymbals – some of us prefer retreating into dark rooms with barely contained explosions of sound obliterating what is left of our eardrums, bouncing with and rebounding off a room full of strangers. Overstimulation clears your head; with senses running at maximum capacity, the brain has no time to think, no time to worry.

Halfway through the gig I become mesmerised by guitarist Alan Duggan’s technique. He spends more time kneeling at his enormous bank of pedals than he does strumming the guitar’s strings.

I watch his fretboard work; at one point I see he is playing an A major chord, but that is not what is ringing out. What I hear when he strums this chord is a concrete slab of white noise weighing roughly the same as a really fucking huge concrete slab smacking me in the face, ribs and heart. All sense of melody is removed from the band’s sound and we are left with, I suppose, Drum ‘n Noise…?

It hurts. Why am I enjoying myself so much? Why are we all enjoying ourselves so much? The crowd behind me is lurching forward, and I turn to see a sea of hypnotised faces swaying in the strobe lights, Buddha-like grins now replacing the traditional British frown.

Gilla band are relentless live. They briefly acknowledge their audience some five or so songs into their set, but banter is sparse. And unlike their support, they don’t look like they’re enjoying themselves so much as exorcising something from within them.

The beats are propulsive; the sound is ferocious and gnarled, broken, but not defeated, not hopeless. There is something about Dara’s vocal delivery that brings to mind James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem.

Gilla Band could be seen as a reworking of that band, if you pushed them violently through a food blender with no regard for your own limbs and recorded the resultant mess onto cassette tape which you then spooled out onto broken glass and stamped on in a fit of cynical rage.

Which is to say, there is humour and playfulness in there somewhere – but it masks something altogether more disturbing.

At the end of an intense hour or so of fresh sounding music that resembles the overstimulation of our times, I leave the gig feeling calm and relaxed and decide to buy a kebab with no concern for my cholesterol at all. I listen to the two bands I just witnessed on my headphones whilst I eat. I feel calm, happy, and content.

Tomorrow will be another day with its own challenges, but tonight I will sleep. God bless noise rock for pummelling my brain into a quiet submission.

Gilla Band + The Psychotic Monks @ Castle and Falcon 23.02.24 / Emily Doyle

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Modern Literature deliver frenetic post-punk at ‘Bootlicker’ single launch Hare & Hounds show

Words by Sophie Hack / Pics by Emily Doyle

Britain can be bleak at the best of times, but it’s the bemusement and chaos of being part of this island that births raw art and, with it, a bit of hope.

In the same week that funding for the arts in Birmingham will be cut by 100% next financial year, Brum’s local music showed once again that, despite adversity, it will be firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of many.

Modern Literature’s ‘Bootlicker’ single release show proved that the beating heart of Birmingham’s music is still pumping and adrenaline-fuelled, as they conquered the stage at the Hare and Hounds on Wednesday, 21 February.

But the overall line-up saw a full room even at the opener – the enigmatic White Hot Cum (…yes, really). Ciggy behind the ear of Kaila Whyte and Hi-Vis adorned by Connor Hemming, the duo seemingly rolled straight off the street and into their thrashy skate-punk. Raucous and uncontrollable, they ripped through songs such as ‘Breakfast Burgers’ and ‘Bosom Friends’ – heckling and telling unfiltered jokes to the crowd in between.

“Wu-Tang is for the children, White Hot Cum is not,” Connor confirmed before flying through hazy, punky, and sometimes blues-y tracks, with an energy on stage I can only liken to the Looney Tunes character Taz. Ending their set with a cover of Black Flag’s ‘Rise Above’ and a declaration of free Palestine, the hilarious White Hot Cum must be seen to be believed. The duo is fantastic at tantalising the crowd with pure charm, wit, and deliciously infectious punk.

The tempo slowed down with the next act, Animal Bones, serving smooth rock & roll with a classic American sound. Frontman Miles Cocker had a huge stage presence, using the monitor to peer closer into the crowd while delivering the sucker-punch rock you’d hear on a hot desert drive.

The slick bass lines and crooning guitar solos brought the heat to the Hare and Hounds, to create a sound like Queens of the Stone Age meets the moodiness of Massive Attack – a timeless sound that will pique the interest of any rock fan.

Modern Literature’s headline show was to celebrate the release of ‘Bootlicker’ – a single that is a “visceral warning” of “the danger of populism, jingoism and right-wing isolationism that’s infected the consciousness” of society. An ode to the people who “pull up the ladder after themselves”, ‘Bootlicker’ takes modern-day inspiration while harking back to the rage felt in the 1980s, through the prominent bass lines and syncopated guitar stabs that echo into this era.

Their set began with an almost apocalyptic sound married with Sean Thompson-De Wolfe’s poem hailing that: “We’ve made a violent God in our own image.”

The brunt force of Modern Literature’s post-punk sent shockwaves through the room, heaving with frenetic energy in tracks ‘Buzz Buzz Buzz’ and ‘Panic Attack’. Frontman Greg Smith handles the stage in a similar way to David Byrne, twisting and contorting as the heavy crashes of symbols spliced with synths and guitar.

The adrenaline that’s building throughout the set comes to a head during the encore ‘Weeping Willow’, as singer Greg and Bassist Skip Davies join the crowd while Kieran Naughton (guitar), Mark Lewis (guitar/keyboards), and Jacob Hall (drums) hold the stage with a wall of fuzz and noise.

Guitars crash to the floor (and singers crash into drums) as their single release show comes to a close, shinning a beacon of hope over Birmingham’s arts scene which needs our support, our energy, and our passion more than ever now to keep it alive.

Modern Literature + Animal Bones, White Hot Cum @ Hare & Hounds 21.02.24 / Emily Doyle

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Chartreuse dust down the winter blues at Hare and Hounds for Independent Venue Week

Words by Sophie Hack / Pics by Emily Doyle

Hosted via Independent Venue Week, the black country quartet Chartreuse came home to the Hare and Hounds on Thursday, 1 February before heading to the USA on tour in March.

Showcasing their newest material from debut album Morning Ritual, Chartreuse’s unique blend of folk, jazz, and flickers of soul permeated through the sold-out Kings Heath crowd, a perfect introduction to the brighter, warmer days on the horizon.

Opener Wildforms (Dan Cippico) takes on a shape of their own with their handcrafted electronic sounds plucked straight from nature. Inside a web of wires, he takes what he’s foraged from his walks; creaking trees, swallow calls and underwater beetle chirps, and bends and shapes them into complex layers that build up a beautiful scenery.

Visuals from Guri Bosh show shoes warping into the grass similar to Midsommar and foxes backtrack away from the camera – the latter shot in Cippico’s back garden: “I set it up because I thought someone was coming into my garden, but it was a load of foxes and badgers. I gave some of it to Guri Bosh… the visuals were improvised off a previous set.”

Throughout the set Wildforms impressively commands the unpredictability of nature, flitting between one instrument to the next instinctively as the set morphs from whimsical, woodwind-led electronic to a scurry of drum and bass beats at the set’s climax.

This busyness is a translation of what’s going on inside his head: “As a teenager, the outdoors was always an escape – I had a really bad stammer and I wanted to get out and away from people, I didn’t feel judged by nature. With Wildforms, I was thinking: how can I translate what’s going on in my busy head and combine it all into one thing?”

The namesake of their debut album, Morning Ritual, is the first song that ushers in Chartreuse, a song that pours over the anxiety of not being good enough for a lover. The slightly spoken word track is the perfect introduction to the band’s glowing performance, with the popular ‘Switch It On Switch It Off’ following, which feels like the nostalgia and comfort from the low hum of the late summer.

Founding members Mike Wagstaff and Harriet Wilson’s folk beginnings are ghostly present in the band’s latest material, expanding into jazz and soul thanks to the addition of Mike’s brother Rory on drums and Perry Lovering on bass and keys.

Not much for talking, but with no need to explain, intimate lyrics shared between Wagstaff and Wilson occupy the room and linger between the more tender musical moments in ‘Whippet’ and ‘Swedish Water’. The brisker ‘Backstroke’ is a reminder of Radiohead’s lyrical rhythm on ‘In Rainbows’, while crowd favourites ‘Deep Fat’ and ‘Keep Checking Up On Me’ ache with loneliness and a despondent feeling for small town living.

The penultimate track ‘All Seeing All The Time’ swells with a sense of paranoia as drums keep pace, a mirror opposite to the last song ‘Sorcerer’s Eyes’, which calmly closes the show with a reflection on the ever-changing pace of life.

Throughout their five-year discography, Chartreuse have always been masters at capturing emotion from within the most unassuming places. Feeling listless in a new home and small town, the longing that stretches the span of both distance and time between lovers, and seeing the joy in a child’s small book on a train.

They take these small instances and construct something from the soul that breathes with life when performed live, serendipitous as this set feels like the perfect way to welcome in pinker skies from lighter days and the warmer months coming.

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PHOTO GALLERY: Mary Ocher at Centrala on 26 January – with support from Rosie Tee, Hassan K, and Steckdose

Pics by Emily Doyle

Out on the road with her latest album, Approaching Singularity: Music For The End Of Time, Mary Ocher will be playing the clubs, venues, and “safe spaces to be weird” of Europe until near enough the end of March.

A 14 track journey through the dark corners of society and back out into the light, with an accompanying essay, Ocher’s 2023 LP sees collaboration with avant-garde luminaries including Italian composer Roberto Cacciapaglia to Mogwai’s Barry Burns.

There are also two tracks with percussion duo Your Government, who feature heavily across May Ocher’s back catalogue and co-released the titular LP Mary Ocher + Your Government in 2016.

Coming through Birmingham on one of her eight UK dates, with another two in the Republic of Ireland, Mary Ocher headlined an evening at Digbeth’s Centrala on Friday 26 January – with local support from Rosie Tee and Steckdose, and her French play pal for the evening Hassan K.

Emily Doyle was there to snap happy for a special PHOTO GALLERY for Birmingham Review, viddy below my droogs.

Mary Ocher + Rosie Tee, Hassan K, Steckdose @ Centrala 26.01.24 / Emily Doyle

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