Letter from London December 2006

"It's also clear that Anton is a little unhinged (there's an odd monologue about security guards in Denmark that leaves us scratching our heads), but don't let that distract you from his music."

After last month confining myself to Islington (not by plan but by happenchance) I have spread my wings geographically this month, reaching parts of London that I haven't visited for years. I even managed to see a gig out of the city! We begin in Camden, at the Dublin Castle to see Melatone. Now, I've tried to describe Melatone to people before, and my description always falls short. So imagine this is a black and white photo and then add your own technicolor. The current incarnation of Melatone is Matt Berry playing gigs all by himself with an acoustic guitar and a few effects pedals. He uses 'live looping' to slowly build up multi-layered tracks; he might begin by tapping out a rhythm on the guitar, and at the tap of a pedal, the rhythm loops, and he'll then play the bass line. Then a melody is added, or a bit of rhythm guitar, or a backing vocal; you get the idea. For a couple of songs you think "hey this is really clever", but then you forget about the delivery and realise that the songs themselves are amazing. And this is where I begin to fail Melatone: I can't think of a way to describe his songs that do him justice, but if you pop along to his myspace page and have a listen to You're Gonna Get Thru you'll get some idea. The set ends with a huge wall of sound: a slide guitar has never been put to better use. Melatone are the first act to play, when the second band appear it doesn't look promising, (a blue-laquered guitar is a sight for sore eyes) and sure enough after 30 seconds of something that reminds me of Del Amitri I leg it. Sorry...http://www.melatone.com http://myspace.com/melatone A few days later I put in an appearance at the Spitz to see Rob Sekula. If anyone has an encyclopaedic knowledge of music they may well remember Rob was the front man for a band called 'The 14 Iced Bears'. (Oh God – ed) I remember the name from way back when, but I couldn't hum one of their tunes if you had a gun to my head, so I'm seeing him fresh. Unlike Melatone, who is a man with a band name, Rob Sekula is a band with a man's name. Well, Rob is joined by drummer Dave Morgan... does that count as a band? Rob certainly still cuts a rock star figure, swanning around the venue in his full length, furry coat. The set has a few old favourites, judging by the affectionate reaction of the audience, but all the songs sound good to me. They're well crafted, delicate and beautiful. I'm pleased to find out that this isn't a one off: Rob has obviously had his appetite whetted and is playing at least one more gig that I know of. I'd say keep an eye on his myspace page and pop along: http://www.myspace.com/robsekulamusic A bit of a gear change now, from intimate gigs in cosy surroundings to large concerts in huge (to me) theatres as I'm taken to see the Flaming Lips at the Hammersmith Apollo. The gig begins with a town crier announcing the band. Wayne then stumbles about on top of the crowd inside giant hamster ball. The rest of the band wander on, the music starts, the crowd of Santas and Aliens take their places on each wing of the stage and the concert begins. During the first couple of songs the balloons we were given as we walked in are joined by oversized green ones, and streamers and lasers. The effect is very psychedelic and there's certainly a party atmosphere around. The stage show is still charmingly lo-fi: there's a pen camera on the microphone to provide weird images to the screen, there's even bigger balloons, the roadies are dressed in super hero outfits, there's a bright light on cable to be whirled around Wayne's head. For me, the feel good, party vibe isn't sustained for the whole 2 hours of the set: there are certainly peaks and troughs. It all ends with a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, it's never a good idea to go near Queen as far as I'm concerned but I reckon I'm in a minority of one tonight. Nothing new there... A night off to recover and I'm in the Mean Fiddler, a more manageable-sized venue for me, but it seems a little odd to see Art Brut play there. I don't begrudge any band success, especially one as hard gigging as these guys. However, it was only 10 months ago that I could see Art Brut play in a bar and I could easily make my way to the front of the stage, and they aren't 'mine' anymore... I've got to share them. That's happened before and it'll happen again. I'm not sure if it's these feelings that mean I don't enjoy tonight as much as I was expecting. All the boxes are ticked: Eddie's banter is top notch, the band is tight, and their crowd is up for it. Maybe it's familiarity, I don't think that the Art Brut set has evolved much over the past 18 months or so that I've been seeing them (if it ain't broke, don't fix it I guess). Yes, there are two or three new songs, but they're new as in 'they're not on the album', not as in 'I've not seen them played live before'. Hopefully a new album will make me fall in love with this band again as I'd hate them to be an "Emily Kane" for me (someone I thought I loved, but realised I like being the time and place more), but I think I'll give them a miss until then. I'm not sure if a review of this next night belongs in Incendiary, but if you're reading it I guess the editor thinks it does. I make my way on a damp Friday night to Dalston to see a friend of mine play in his improvised music band: The Unseemly Trio. The venue is the back room of a pub (of course), but this pub, the Sussex, isn't full of trendy Hoxton types, but normal folk. What's even odder is that the night, 'The Klinker' is perhaps one of the strangest things you could go to. It's not about music, it's about performance, so you could see a spoken word piece, or some home made films. Tonight we start off with Builders Crack an awful name. This act has a guy tinkling on a piano while another reads a long piece of meandering prose with is sometimes acted out by the third guy. It's sometimes funny, but it goes on too long. Next up we have Sasha and Mel Zebra, two women, two guitars and two chords. It's awful. Think the blonde one from Friends and you get the idea. Still, I had a good chuckle while I was supping on my ale, but I don't think that's the point. Hugh, the host, tries to enliven proceedings by doing some mock dancing: it only adds to my mirth as he prances around in his cabbage hat. God... is this the decadence that signals then end of a civilization? (Yes – ed) Could the terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan get legions of recruits against the West by showing them what happens here while they have to toil to make a living? Probably, so I go to the bar to refill my beer and avoid eye contact with the lads playing pool. The Unseemly Trio finally make an appearance. Mark plays alto sax, and lots of percussions instruments (some home made, like the sweet tin full of broken glass). Steve has more percussion instruments, mostly home made. Mike has an African xylophone type thing and an accordion. Hugh joins them on guitar. Now... if you've never seen an improvised music performance before, it very difficult to describe what happens. There are no songs, no 'tunes' nor melodies. The music flows, sweeps from quiet to loud from beautiful to harsh. It's either your cup of tea, or it's not. I'm not sure if it's mine to tell you the truth. I enjoy seeing my mate play, but I'd never go unless they were playing. It's an excuse for a night out isn't it? I might have my mind broadened. A week later I'm on the train to visit my folks in the North East. I've timed my visit to coincide with a performance by Jason Spaceman at the Sage in Newcastle. I think that the Sage is an amazing building, and Hall 2 (where Jason plays) is an amazing space. It's a ten sided shape, quite small but quite high. If you're not on the ground floor you and sit so that you're behind the band: an all round performance space. Tonight Jason plays with a 4 piece string section, a keyboard player and 3 backing singers (I'm not sure why they're gospel singers, but that's what a lot of people are calling them). Tonight is beautiful. The music makes me feel like I've been cleansed. Everyone on stage is giving their all, but (as far as I spot) only the backing singers show any kind of emotion: it's easy to see the ones that they enjoy. Most of the songs have religious references, mentioning Jesus or Heaven or the Lord, maybe that's why it feels so spiritual. I hope that there'll be a CD of this stuff that I can buy soon. My family obligations fulfilled for a while, I hot foot it back to London in time to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre play at the Astoria. Yes, Joel is there: centre stage shaking his tambourine. Dig! must be a double edged sword for these guys. I'm sure far more people know of them now, but there are obviously people coming to see one of the bust ups that pepper that film, rather than see the music. That's a shame because the music can be amazing. There are often all sorts of melodies appearing out of the walls of sound that the band produce. A more musical friend with me says they're 'implied harmonics'. I'll take his word for it. The BJM are a great band, and it's clear that Anton is a bit of an Anglophile: the one time a heckler succeeds in getting to him the tirade back has references to a 'jumper' that the hecklers 'nan' must have knitted. A less educated American would have used 'sweater' and 'gran'. It's also clear that Anton is a little unhinged (there's an odd monologue about security guards in Denmark that leaves us scratching our heads), but don't let that distract you from his music. Finally, it's back to my preferred environment, the pub gig. Just last night I was in the tiny basement of the Betsy Trotwood. I arrive as the Bow Mods are playing their first song. The room is packed, which means there a couple of dozen people in here, and everyone seems to enjoy themselves. There's so much about this band that could make me dislike them: a 6 string bass, a proper music stand for the guitarist (I just pray that it doesn't have sheet music on it)... I could go on. But I won't as they're great. The front man is a born performer, and this venue is cramping his style. I can't wait to see this lot in a (slightly) bigger venue, and fully enjoy the tales of shopping on the Roman Road. I think they're enjoyable, even if you won't get all the East London references. I'll leave you with a bit of very wise advice, nicked from the closing song of the night Country Girls: don't go to Canning Town. http://www.myspace.com/bowmods


Words: Chris Gibson.