BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham Review

Words by Ed King / Pics by Cameron Goodyer

This is a first. I’m early. Fifteen minutes early. Never happens… Ever.

But the God of Surprises is on the warpath, as tonight’s Ani DiFanco gig at the Town Hall has undersold to the point that they’ve closed the Circle. What, the..? This is an artist that can sell out two nights at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, back to back, with a mail out and an advert in the Guardian Guide.

OK, fair enough; there’s more to promotion than this. But I’ve been running events since before I was legally allowed to be in the venues that hosted them, so I have some perspective. Sort your shit out Birmingham or we’ll never get Ani DiFranco back in the city.

The review is also, now, a plea.

But also a review. Like an empty airplane I stretch out, bags and coats, as Chastity Brown opens up with her blues and bluegrass coated folk… I’m getting tired of genre descriptions. Braving the echoing cavern first, not an easy hurdle, Brown delivers a tight yet stripped back set – winning over the stalls only crowd with melody, candor and “…like a talk show host” instructions. Awesome stuff.

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham ReviewThere’s now five albums out there for you to explore, Silhouette of Sirens released this May, but I am surprised to see Chastity Brown back in Birmingham so soon – having played the Hare & Hounds with Otis Gibbs only a couple of weeks before. Seems like another missed opportunity for the Righteous Babe roster too.

But support set turns into interval, interval turns into alcohol, alcohol turns into a more salacious atmosphere as the interval turns into the headline set; Ani DiFranco walks on to the Town Hall stage to a reassuringly huge reception.

Opening with ‘Not Angry Anymore’ there is immediate fire in the gut. It’s odd; I’m not used to seeing Ani DiFranco in front of anything less than wall to wall adulation, but there’s an edge tonight. The confidence and cocked head/wry smile deflections are still there but they’ve come out fighting. Maybe the challenge of the crowd-to-floor-space-index is a good thing, a blue touch paper to a performer who has worked her way with every step.

BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham ReviewA quick shout out to the calibre of the venue, a far cry from the “sticky floors” DiFranco is more used to playing on, and ‘Two Little Girls’ is introduced with a candid quip about the other person in the story. I love Little Plastic Castles and getting to see anything from it played live is a bucket list bullet point, but DiFranco punches this tale of love, heroin and the absurdity of self destruction off stage with tight control. Ferocious in all the right ways.

‘Allergic to Water’, the tile track from DiFranco’s last but one LP, comes out next with some beautifully tempered percussion from Terence Higgins. ‘Names and Dates and Places’ takes us back to the cutting teeth days of the Canadian folk circuits, before ‘Modulation’ is introduced as a byproduct of getting “married by accident… throw in a leather jacket and call it a good deal.”

Higgins is once again standout, with some short tap percussion, but the whole band are tight and together. At least that what it feels like from Row K. In fact the air is significantly lighter than it was before anyone started playing anything. I’ve seen Ani DiFranco at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and the Glee Club here in Birmingham; both great gigs but already, only a few songs in, this feels… something, I don’t know, more involved I guess. Stronger.

Then Bucket List A / Subsection 2B: ‘Swan Dive’. I’ve waited years to sing ‘…I’ve got better things to do than survive,’ in a room with its author. DiFranco rips through the song of fuck you/empowerment (or at least it is to me) as if the chords were searing flesh; unrelenting. Troubadour 101.

Some ‘Dithering’ next, before we are introduced to the first song tonight from Ani DiFranco’s most recent LP, Binary. Inspired by the stained glass hypocrisy and male governed dress up box that is a “proper working Church, with dudes in robes… I was in their way all day” – ‘Alrighty’ stalks its way off stage and into the BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham Reviewshadows, with some finally fixed distortion and lyrics as close to a pun as I’m comfortable to be. There’s a lot to revere in an Ani DiFranco back catalogue but it’s been the words that have pulled me in time after time. A significant songwriter, yes. But a writer.

Binary has some beautiful moments on it too, delivering important challenges through sometimes playful, yet acerbic and unassailable observations (to read my review of Binary, click here). But the “absurd” nature of the Church, with its anxious misogyny and religious patriarchy, is amongst the most important; a side step to the fight against male control of the female body, as delivered so deftly in ‘Play God’, being the next battle on the hill.

The set jumps from old to new, as Binary gets to show off more of its wares with some much earlier material filling in the gaps – including a musical pause to deliver ‘The Slant’, DiFranco’s prose only warning about ‘rhythms of attraction’ and the dangers of ‘something more they wanted’.

Then ‘Play God’ arrives. You can check out the official video below but this is Ani DiFranco on top form. And at a time when our Great Britain is preparing sell the right to choose for a heckle free Queen’s Speech it’s all the more important a message.BREVIEW: Ani DiFranco @ Town Hall 30.06.17 / Cameron Goodyer - Birmingham Review I’ve kept my political nose clean in recent months but all week I’ve wanted to throw chairs; now I just want to applaud.

With Chastity Brown back on stage, alongside the full band line up, the title track to Binary takes us into the encore. DiFranco’s latest LP is a mature call to arms, imploring a more reasoned approach to debate and understanding, as “consciousness is circular when consciousness is winning” – and the new material stands out, albeit a dangerous place to be against such a well loved and extensive portfolio. Played live tonight it’s superb, but its timing is just as important with the world’s three largest ‘democracies’ currently governed by bullies and murders. And this is not a left wing rally cry; actual bullies, actual murders.

We need to pull together, even if we don’t agree. We need to, quite simply, unite. We need to embrace musicians like Ani DiFranco who keep bringing something substantial to the table. And whilst this could neatly tie itself into my framing device – following on from the ‘surprise’ of an emptier Town Hall than the bill poster deserves – I don’t want to knock an audience who helped turn a kick in the teeth into a silver lining. Best Ani DiFranco gig I’ve been to.

Although there’s always one, and perhaps that’s the point. But I write my last line inspired by the loud complaints of an angry (and oddly vocal) woman we run into as we’re leaving the Town Hall; my final surprise of the evening.

So, a pro-lifer walks into an Ani DiFranco concert…

‘Play God’ – Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco released Binary on 9th June, through Righteous Babe Records and Aveline Records. For more on Ani DiFranco and the wider Righteous Babe roster, including online purchase points for the label’s entire portfolio, visit

For more on Chastity Brown, visit

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit

BPREVIEW: Supersonic Festival @ Various 16-18.06.17

Words by Charlotte Heap

Back after a brief hiatus, Supersonic Festival is returning with its trademark artistically adventurous programme – promising a weekend of experimental experiences across Birmingham.

Launched in 2003, this established festival has a reputation as one of the UK’s most anticipated avante garde music and arts events. Utilising some of Birmingham’s best performance spaces, Capsule (the self-proclaimed ‘cultural alchemist’) have curated a schedule which is bursting with cutting edge artists.

Organist Anna Von Hausswolff opens the festival at the Town Hall: her gothic style complements the concert hall’s magnificent architecture, fusing live electronics and a traditional guitar band with the huge sound of the historic organ installed in 1834.

Capsule have incorporated Lucy McLauchlan’s large scale street art in and around the Digbeth based festival hub, hoping that her monochromatic explorations of Birmingham’s waterways – displayed along the canalside – will entice the viewer to McLauchlan‘s residency within Centrala (Minerva Works) and Boxxed (Floodgate Street).

Committed to bringing challenging cultural experiences to the masses, Supersonic even has a child-focused performance: Melt Banana, a Japanese band, are bringing a somewhat intimidating described “riot of sound and fury” to Symphony Hall’s exalted stage. For Birmingham’s younger audience it should be a memorable musical moment in one of the country’s best concert venues.

An important part of the Brummie cultural calendar, Supersonic needed to come back with a bang after it’s break in 2016. With workshops, talks, film showings and more, the festival’s 2017 line-up is a welcome return for Birmingham’s culture vultures.  Ticket prices for Supersonic events will vary across the weekend’s programme, depending on how much you want to do and where you want to be.

Supersonic Festival comes to various venues across Birmingham, running from 16th to 18th June. For direct festival info and online tickets sales, visit

ALBUM: Binary – Ani DiFranco

ALBUM: Binary - Ani DiFranco

Words by Ed King / Pics by Katja Ogrin – taken at The Glee Club for Birmingham Review

On Friday 9th June, Ani DiFranco releases her latest studio album, Binary – out on Righteous Babe Records and Aveline Records.

Touring the UK, Ani DiFranco will be performing at the Birmingham Town Hall on 30th June. Doors open at 7:30pm, with tickets priced at £28 (+booking fee) – for direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

Ani DiFranco’s twentieth solo studio album… just let that sink in for a while, Binary is rooted in the principle ‘that nothing can truly exist except in relationship with something else.’ As Flaubert propagated, truth is just an individual’s perception of the subject. So we’re all right and all wrong. Kinda.

Galvanized by the seesaw co-dependency of most modern democracies, Ani DiFrancio has given Big ‘P’ politics an unashamed spotlight on her latest LP – turning her attention to the machinations and administrations that control everything from foreign policy to what a woman can do with her body (check the video to ‘Play God’ below). None of these topics are ever off the table with DiFranco, but the shift that Binary makes is about being more than just a personal context – and this, to a member of the post Pax Britannica generation, self publishing on the day a duel of fear and anger filled rhetoric ended in a hung parliament, feels like a pertinent move.

Ani DiFranco @ The Glee Club 17.09.14 / Katja Ogrin - Birmingham ReviewThe title track opens the album and outlines this concept, with some Latin beat percussion to hold your hand along the way (I think Maceo Parker is in there too but I haven’t got an inlay card to check). Next up the six string story returns with ‘Pacifist’s Lament’, as DiFranco and a subtle horn section implore us to “stop in the middle of a battle and say you’re sorry” and not run to the solitary ideology of our “prime evil caves”. Love your neighbor, I guess. Even when you don’t like the colour of their pin badge.

There’s some beautiful production on Binary as a whole, with the ‘Little Folksinger’ of albums past embracing a wider ensemble for a much richer sound. Nothing new with this (circa Knuckle Down, at least) and whilst I’ll always be a fan of the raw edge this recording room maturity gives weight to the message Binary is delivering. And track three, the dreamlike ‘Zizzing’, reminds me of The Velvet Underground’s outtake homage to the big blue… never a bad thing. That and our responsibility to (and culpability for) the ever crumbling world.

The problem with politics defining an album, is just that; at best you sound like a garrulous soapbox, at worst you give birth to a one sided manifesto that has no recourse for debate. Most land in the middle.

Ani DiFranco @ The Glee Club 17.09.14 / Katja Ogrin - Birmingham ReviewBut what DiFranco has done with Binary is healthier – challenging the predisposition that one side is ever right in absolute and championing the call, even need, for collaborative evolution. To quote the title track: “Consciousness is binary, consciousness is spinning. Consciousness is a circuit when consciousness is winning”. Be they thoughts or mandates, be they liberal or conservative (small caps), if you only listen to one voice then you are pandering to autocracy. It’s that simple.

So Binary is an album that everyone can enjoy, or appreciate, or at least sink their DiFranco dentures into; wherever you want to shove the Electoral College or Northern Ireland Assembly, there’s a seat at this table.

What you make of Binary musically is, of course, up to you. As it should be; as it needs to be. But honestly I’ve only had a chance to listen to the album a few times and would need more plays to make an informed declaration.

Although, in my opinion…

‘Play God’ – Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco releases Binary on 9th June, through Righteous Babe Records and Aveline Records. Ani DiFranco will be performing at the Birmingham Town Hall on 30th June – for direct gig info, click here.

For more on Ani DiFranco and the wider Righteous Babe roster, visit

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, including venue details and online ticket sales, visit


BPREVIEW: What the Ladybird Heard Live @ Town Hall – until 11.01.17

BPREVIEW: What the Ladybird Heard Live @ Town Hall – until 11.01.17Words by Ed King / Pics courtesy of THSH

On Tuesday 27th December, What the Ladybird Heard Live opens at the Birmingham Town Hall – running until 11th January 2017.Birmingham Preview

Tickets are priced between £12-17, with shows are held at around 11am, 1pm and 3pm (with variations) most days of the week – excluding Mondays.

For full show dates, times and online ticket sales, click here.

Adapted for the stage by Kenny Wax Family Entertainment Ltd, who have also produced children’s favourites The Gruffalo, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Hetty Feather and We’re Going On A Beat Hunt for theatre, What the Ladybird Heard Live is based on Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks’ award winning picture book (Stockport 2011, Scottish Children’s 2011).

Telling the tale of how a simple ladybird foils ‘two men in a big black van, with a map and a key and a cunning plan’ from stealing a farmyard’s ‘fine prize cow’, What the Ladybird Heard is essentially an exercise in linguistics and phonics. And farmyard security.

Playfully illustrated by Lydia Monks, Donaldson’s narrative of rhyming couplets is as close to a song as you’re going to get without singing – complete with alliterated arch-villains and anthropomorphised animals. But it also carries a soft message of empowerment, that no matter how small or (mostly) silent you are your voice is still important.

Previous What the Ladybird Heard Live productions have played heavy on audience participation, with many of the farmyard animals being created by prompts and scattered stage props. But considering the book will take you about 15mins maximum to read (and the attention span of a toddler can be less than that) you’d hope director Matthew Gregory has some extra on stage distractions in his arsenal.

Running at the Birmingham Town Hall until the New Year, this will be your only chance to see What the Ladybird Heard Live on stage before summer next year. The production runs again at the Lyric Theatre in London, from Wednesday 5th July to Sunday 6th September 2017.

What the Ladybird Heard Live

What the Ladybird Heard Live opens at the Birmingham Town Hall – running from Tuesday 27th December, until 11th January 2017. 

A ‘specially curated relaxed performance… for people with an Autistic Spectrum Condition, a learning disability or sensory and communication disorder’ will be held on Sunday 8th January 2017 at 3pm. For direct event info, including full show dates/times and online ticket sales, click here.

For more on What the Ladybird Heard Live, visit

For more from the Town & Symphony Halls, including full event programmes and online tickets sales, visit


BREVIEW: British Sea Power @ Town Hall 27.02.16

BPREVIEW: British Sea Power @ Town Hall 27.02.16 / Michelle Martin - Birmingham Review


Words by Helen Knott / Pics by Michelle Martin

There have been some weird and wonderful musical collaborations over the years. Kylie and Nick Cave, Aerosmith and Run DMC, Tom Jones and… well, take your pick. Sometimes they result in a timeless classic, sometimes we get something unbelievably abysmal.BPREVIEW: British Sea Power @ Town Hall 27.02.16 / Michelle Martin - Birmingham Review

Tonight’s match up between art rockers British Sea Power and brass orchestra Jaguar Land Rover Band lies somewhere between the two. British Sea Power’s most recent album Sea of Brass saw the band collaborate with arranger Peter Wraight to re-work songs from their 12 year career. They performed these new arrangements with a number of different brass ensembles during a 2014 UK tour and this Town Hall gig is a one-off reprisal of the indie/brass pairing.

I’m not sure if it’s the one-off nature of the gig that’s to blame, but the evening starts very awkwardly. The first track is ‘Heavenly Waters’, which in its recorded form is a Mogwai-esque instrumental B-side that provides a dramatic and filmic opening to Sea of Brass. It sounds messy and under-rehearsed on stage. On the record, complex brass motifs weave with melodic guitar lines to create a cohesive whole. Here it just sounds like a song that’s really difficult to play.BPREVIEW: British Sea Power @ Town Hall 27.02.16 / Michelle Martin - Birmingham Review

A traditional brass band like Jaguar Land Rover doesn’t feature any trumpet or saxophone, so this isn’t the sexy jazz sound of a Big Band; it’s more traditional and mellow. Not a problem, but if the brass isn’t being used to create drama, like in Radiohead’s ‘The National Anthem’ say, it needs to sound totally gorgeous. It never quite does – the tone is dull and flat, when it should be rich and resonant.

It’s not like the raw materials aren’t there to work with – British Sea Power have some gorgeous songs. The two tracks that close their debut album The Decline of British Sea Power, ‘A Wooden Horse’ and ‘Lately’, are both performed tonight. Weirdly, considering how many instruments are on stage, both lack the dynamic range of the album versions. ‘Lately’s frantic guitars and screeching vocals are lost, along with much of its emotional impact.

Things do improve as the gig goes along. The two bands seem to relax a little in each other’s company, carried by the enthusiasm of the crowd. By the encore, audience members are wedding reception-style dancing in the aisles, much to the displeasure of a steward. She makes them sit down again. “Dad dancing? Not on my watch.”BPREVIEW: British Sea Power @ Town Hall 27.02.16 / Michelle Martin - Birmingham Review

This is a rather middle aged affair. The bite, mayhem and eccentricity of past British Sea Power gigs is very much missed. Even the famous British Sea Power foliage, which they haphazardly decorated stages with at the start of their career, has been prettied up with twinkly fairy lights. The extra instrumentation should be making the songs soar, but instead the brass, and maybe even the elegant, all-seater venue, actually seems to subdue and restrain the performance.

Perhaps I’m being harsh – the show was warmly received by the audience, reviews of the original 2014 tour were largely positive and the album itself has some wonderful moments.

Maybe the bands were just having a bit of an off night. But, on tonight’s evidence, this is one pop collaboration that I don’t need to hear more of.

For more on British Sea Power visit

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