LBB11 – Thursday
The Stairs, Graham Day & The Forefathers, The Wicked Whispers
Cor, blimey, Le Beat Bespoke ELEVEN? It only seems five minutes since the last one: what’s more, it only seems like yesterday I was musing on exactly the same thoughts. Wherever do our lives go?
This year is decidedly a bold step for the New Untouchables: for the first time, there is not one band or artist gracing the bill whose career predates the early-80s. THE WICKED WHISPERS, who like tonight’s headliners hail from equatorial Merseyside. Whilst I’ve never heard them before, their sound and appearance seem strangely familiar: (they twang their Rickenbackers and Telecasters with youthful fervour and exuberance, know their way round an eerie melody, and recall the Toytown stylings of Factory and Kaleidoscope as much as the West Coast hallucinogens of the Byrds, Charlatans and Music Machine, whose standout tune The People In Me they end with) their early 90s indie influences, by now an inevitable facet of any psych revival act, give them a defiantly British identity far more refreshing than many of their contemporaries’.
By contrast, GRAHAM DAY and his arse-kicking beat combo THE FOREFATHERS have always known where they want to be (in a word, Medway, where they’ve always been) and they revel in it. Sandwiched between two quintessentially North-Western acts, they couldn’t be more “Sahf Eastern” if they tried: whereas mate and mentor Billy Childish has spent half his career soaking up primal Americanisms, Day and long-term colleague Allan Crockford have always sounded, despite sharing the exact same blues, garage and RnR influences, like the bunch of Kents they are. This, of course, is why all their former bands were brilliant, and why they’re great. Thrashing through the tracks from their 2014 longplayer “Good Things” ( a mixture of Prisoners, Gaolers, Solar Flares and Prime Movers numbers re-recorded the way Day always envisaged them) they’re essentially, though they won’t thank me for this, the Mod or psych-garage-head’s equivalent to Motorhead, AC/DC or early Quo: rock’n’roll at its most undiluted and wilfully uncommercial, yet ironically featuring Beatles/Kinksesque hooks and melodies that could batter most so-called “mainstream” artists into oblivion.
And though something’s clearly up with Day’s guitar (thus robbing Love Me Lies and Begging You of about 30 percent of their overdrive) and Crockford’s allegedly brought the “wrong setlist”, these distractions only determine the trio further to grind such gremlins underfoot. Following a slight lull in pace, Sucking Out My Insides revives proceedings with incendiary aggression: the encore of Joe South’s/Deep Purple’s Hush is an arguably unnecessary adjunct to their own, far superior I Drink The Ocean, but one supposes every rock’n’roller must pay respect to his influences sometime and this has been in the set list on and off since the Prisoners days. The question is, will Day ever again channel his inherent Purpleness into performing selections from the Prime Movers’ Earth Church or Arc albums? What do you mean, “piss off”?
To mark their first London appearance in over 20 years, THE STAIRS have seemingly brought along an entire Scouse Mafioso of devotees and even if some of them do spend the entire set complaining about the volume (try not talking over everything, duckie, and you’ll hear it) the awe and reverence in which we all still hold them “dahn ere” obviously still pales into insignificance compared to their Godlike status up the ‘Pool. And so it should: without Edgar Summertyme-Jones and crew’s early 90s efforts, half the subsequent psych, R’n’B and indie acts that followed in their wake simply wouldn’t have followed. The Coral? Had they never heard “Mexican R’n’B”, they’d probably all be stacking shelves in the Hoylake branch of Tescos right now. Truly, the Stairs were, and are, that important so, now they’ve finally returned to show the pretenders how to do it properly, will they live up to the legend?
From the opening blues-pummel of Mary Joanna and Flying Machine, it would definitely seem (even if lead guitarist Ged Lynn’s distortion pedal doesn’t appear to be plugged in) that this is the case: When It All Goes Wrong and Mundane Monday have much the same (if more refined and textured) impact, although Russian Spy & I bumps the energy levels back to party proportions.
Woman Gone & Say Goodbye, Mr Window Pane and the evergreen Right In The Back Of Your Mind are as swaggeringly cocksure as any triumvirate of tunes can be, hitting the assembled fans (many of whom, including me, never saw ‘em first time round) in all the designated places. Conversely, just as many are bemused by both sides of the new single A Thousand Miles Away/Shit Town, the former sounding like extreme Canterbury prog fed through Robin Trower’s blues blender and the latter like the Swell Maps or TV Personalities on harder drugs than either ever took, but I personally find their uncompromising experimentalism encouraging after all, do you really want your favourite band to reform 20-odd years on having not developed in any way whatsoever? The Stairs have never danced to anyone’s tune but their own, and that’s what makes them special. And, somehow or other, I don’t see things changing. The final song of the set is Skin Up and the encore is (what else) Weed Bus. The Stairs represent the embodiment of everything New Untouchables has ever been about. Welcome back gentlemen.
LBB11 – Saturday
Jim Jones & The Rightous Mind plus Little Barrie and The Dustaphonics
Having sadly forgone Friday’s shenanigans, Saturday promised to be undoubtedly the most “rock n roll” of all four nights: definitely the most radical departure from the original NUTs template since the days of Circulus, albeit louder.
My apologies to the DUSTAPHONICS, who I was unable to see due to a family engagement in not-so-sunny West Kensington: having heard positive things about them, I was keen to catch at least some of their set, but after a while, it became apparent this wasn’t going to happen, something which also became increasingly true of LITTLE BARRIE as the hours wore on.
Nonetheless, the two songs I did catch were superb, full of bottom-heavy, fuzz-bass groove, and (though comparisons must be wearing thin by now) worthy of Zep at their best. Even from those eight minutes alone, it was evident that LB are not only light years ahead of any other band on the UK “vintage” scene, but any worldwide combo currently lauded as saviours of veteran heavy rock. Sadly, because of Barrie’s commitments (Morrissey, Primal Scream) they’ll possibly never be as big as the goddam should be. General sensors of opinion was that this was the show of the weekend
JIM JONES and the Righeous Mind mix the best elements of all three of Jones prior aggregations through a demonic, disjointed blender: it still rocks out, particularly on the thrudding grandeur of Base Is Loaded, Hold Up and Walk It Out, but there are more than three chords now, and it’s more angular, uncompromising. More Beefheart than Berry, more Red Krayola than Otis Redding, more King Crimson than King Curtis, more Sun Ra than Sun Studios. Unfortunately, this also means several quieter, blues’n’ jazz-tinged interludes, which a fair percentage of the crowd opt to natter over: whether this is down to the Mind being the most unusual Le Beat headliner yet or simply the unfamiliarity of the material is unclear, but there are definitely less transfixed attendees at the back than at the front. Once the album’s out and fully ingrained in their collective consciousness, though, they’re bound to pay more attention: with closing numbers as powerful as Alpha Shit, it looks as if they won’t have any choice in the matter anyway, and even Boil Yer Blood, which I have to admit I was resolutely unimpressed by on first hearing, is transformed into a stomping monster live, the dirtbox rhythms of drummer Lee Martini smashing thin air whilst Jones lurches and struts like some unhinged hybrid of Lee Brilleaux and Bill Hicks. Such a thunderous climax can’t fail to make impact, and by the closing chords, everyone’s been won over.
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