REM split up – It’s been a bad day, please don’t take a picture!

September 21, 2011

After 31 years of some alternative rock, fantastic guitar riffs, indie and a little bit of mandolin, REM have decided today that it’s time to hang up the guitars and microphone and leave their music behind them.

I can’t deny that I’m more than a little sad at this news, REM have been one of my favourite bands for as long as I can remember. I grew up with tracks such as ‘End Of The World’, ‘Losing My Religion’ and ‘Imitation of Life’. They were the soundtrack to my teen years and still feature very prominently on my iPod today, so it’s sad to hear there will be no more.

There’s no doubt that REM were at their best when rocking out to a high powered, fast paced tune. Mike Stipe’s almost wailing voice is a joy to behold on tracks such as ‘Orange Crush’ and ‘So Fast, So Numb’. You can’t beat a good shout-out chorus.

But there was always more than just the alternative rock classics. Many will remember REM for the slow, soothing and beautiful ‘Everybody Hurts’, which no doubt many a fan is playing right now. There were also ventures into different sounds and styles, ‘At My Most Beautiful’, ‘Leaving New York’ and the incredible Mandolin based ‘Losing My Religion’.

I’m sure many would argue that REM’s best was behind them before todays announcement and perhaps they are right – it can’t be easy recording 16 albums of original content. But the point is I have enjoyed every one of REM’s releases, with their recent ‘Collapse Into Now’ providing another anthology of catchy guitar based tunes.

But maybe it was time for it all to end, the band members have today openly discussed that they were starting to run out of inspiration and question where next. I am sad to think that I won’t get to see the guys live again, the one time I did was definitely one the best gigs I’ve ever been to with a sensational atmosphere throughout.

I’ll also miss the videos, look them up on YouTube if you haven’t, some of the most beautiful, creative, clever and funny music videos I’ve ever watched.

But tonight we say goodbye and thank you to Messers Stipe, Mills, Buck and Berry – REM.

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My Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011

August 15, 2011

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, it will have been hard to avoid the fact that I spent all of last week up in Edinburgh to experience the Fringe Festival for the first time ever. Now I’m back and have had time to gather my thoughts on an amazong week, here’s what I thought of 2011’s festival.

The first thing to mention is the sheer scale of the festival itself. It’s the largest arts festival in the entire world and there truly is something for everyone. My group spent most of the time enjoying the comedy on offer, but there’s so much more including dance, theatre, music, children’s shows, sensory experiences and the downright weird. With almost 300 venues, the festival spans the whole city and there’s an amazing atmosphere on every street (and admittedly quite a lot of crude graffiti…)

Onto the shows then, the main part. On the whole, I was very impressed with the quality of them with really only one dud show out of the 30 I saw during the week. The prices also come in very competitively, averaging at around £7/£8 per show. That’s not bad for an hour long performance (many of which are available on 2 for 1 offers at certain times too). And if that’s still too much for you, there’s around 600 free shows ready to entice you over the festival.

The venues differ from show-to-show. Some performances were in grand halls as you are perhaps accustomed to, whereas others are in pubs or venues no bigger than my front room. This really adds to the special feeling of the Fringe, the idea of cramming as many people in as possible to experience as much entertainment as possible. There’s a very friendly and buoyant spirit to the whole production (even from those who have to work through the night to make it happen).

Although you’ll see several big names performing at the Fringe (the likes of Rich Hall, Dave Gorman, Al Murray, Richard Herring, Milton Jones, Sarah Millican, Stewart Lee and ‘Barry and Stuart’ all have shows this year) the Fringe is really more about discovering new acts. I hadn’t heard of the majority of performers I saw, but I really enjoyed their performance and appreciated the chance to see this talent which surely deserves to be nurtured and moved up to bigger places.

As I mentioned earlier, I really enjoyed all (but one) of the shows I saw, but I do of course have my highlights and here they are…

ShowStopper – As a fan of ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway’, I was thrilled to see so much improv at the festival. ShowStopper is and improvised musical of epic proportions. The audience give suggestions to story themes/titles/song styles at the start and then the ensemble cast of around 10 bring it to life in a hilarious fashion. One of the best improve shows I have ever seen, they really knew how to do it.

Axis of Awesome – Move over Flight of the Conchords, these Aussies know how to rock, parody style! You may have heard of them due their rather large YouTube following, but the live show was extremely funny and very much a headbanger. Great show.

Michael Winslow – This is the guy from Police Academy, Sgt Motor Mouth! His stand up is essentially full of sound effects, all entirely made by the mans voice. I could hardly believe my ears as Winslow dubbed an entire action clip of Star Wars with his own sound effects. Oh and don’t visit the toilet during the show, Winslow has a great mock for that!

Richard Herring – Richard Herring has been a well known comedian for a while, but never quite seems to reach the big time, which is a shame because he was arguably the best ‘traditional’ standup show I saw. With his twisted sense of humour and efforts to offend, he’s not for all, but is a very entertaining comedian and has a great Fringe show.

Idiots of Ants – Sketch was also very well represented at the Fringe, but I would say my favourite sketch group was Idiots of Ants. Their performance seemed to take into account their surroundings the best, involving the audience and making use of the fact this wasn’t TV and was live. Sketch comedy is hard to do live (look at how many takes the pros need on TV) and these guys seemed to pitch it just right. They should have their own TV sketch series (would beat so many others!)

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Not strictly part of the Fringe, but still worth doing. With the backdrop of the dazzlingly illuminated Edinburgh castle, the tattoo parades military bands as well as adding some humour and a fair bit of assailing. Oh and of course some pretty special fireworks at the end. It rained for the whole two-hours that I saw the Tattoo, yet I would still heartily recommend it to anyone, brilliant experience.

There are several others worthy of mention – Mitch Benn, WitTank, Thom Tuck, Jimeoin, Tiffany Stevenson, School of Night, Shakespeare for Breakfast, Dave Callan – all fantastic laughs.

I did get to see a bit of Edinburgh while I was there in between the many shows. The city is very different to most in the UK, very hilly and traditional with several interesting looking buildings. It’s traditionally Scottish and that was great to see (especially as I’d never even visited the country before). Make sure you visit the newly refurbished museum and the castle while there, both are fascinating experiences.

And that brings me to the end of this whistle stop guide. There’s so much more to Edinburgh than what I have mentioned and several more notable performers. I would recommend the festival to anyone, because it really is for anyone, more so than any other festival I know of. Such as fantastic mix, celebrating everything thats great about the world of arts and entertainment – what more could you ask for?

Long live the Fringe!


Elbow at The Birmingham NIA – Review

March 23, 2011

Elbow have aways come across as quite a different band – it’s one of the things that attracted me to them a few years ago (that and the brilliant ‘One Day Like This’). I was therefore expecting a very different kind of gig when I set off for Birmingham yesterday to see the band for the first time.

And I was right to expect different. You get the idea from the moment you step into the arena and are greeted by a massive red curtain, a chandelier style light above it and several unusually shaped gold photo frames at the forefront. These frames would later house images of the band members (each moving slightly at random moments so that you felt as if you were in a Harry Potter film!) – good entertainment as we wait for the main attraction.

As the moment neared the lights dimmed as normal and the band left their photo frames to appear on stage. And this brilliant stage production continued thoughout the night in one of the most visually impressive shows I have ever witnessed – but more on that later.

The show opened – unsurprisingly – with the first song of the bands latest LP, ‘The Birds’ – a song I originally appreciated, but now absolutely adore after seeing the more rockier live version.

The band showcased mostly new songs from ‘Build a Rocket Boys’ all of which I felt took on a massively improved presence when played live. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in my audio review of the album that I felt some songs were a little too samey and on the slow almost monotonous side. But this was not the case last night as each tune was brought alive in a much more powerful and effective way. I found myself really enjoying an LP I had previously seen as average.

Highlights from the new tracks have to be ‘Neat Little Rows’ which is a beast of a rock song when played live and ‘Open Arms’ which has incredible power and presence in the room. I defy you to raise a smile to this song!

The rest of the set list consisted mostly of tracks from ‘The Seldom Seen Kid’ – no bad thing for myself as I’m mostly familiar with these two albums, but I could see some older fans being a little disappointed with the lack of back-catalogue, ‘Leaders of the free world’ for example should have been included.

But none the less, those included were fantastic including a very powerful rendition of ‘The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver’ and the best finale ever from ‘One Day Like This’.

The musical arrangement was impeccably put together. There was a wide variety from the all out rock songs like ‘Grounds for Divorce’ to the acoustic and moving ‘Puncture Repair’ followed by the slow-starting-with-a-massive-crescendo (!) ‘Some Riot.

And to compliment the bad, there were musicians playing strings on stage which I was very pleased to see. It makes the whole performance seem so much bigger and complete. Orchestral instruments have become a must with Elbow.

Throughout the show, the presentation was some of the best I have seen. The lighting is not the biggest and best I have seen, but each song had a perfect mood set by the cleverly chosen lighting arrangements. Guy Garvey constantly moved between the inner stage and main stage to keep things very interesting.

The stage evolved over the show, ditching the photo frames early on and ending up with projections all over the back curtain – sometimes quick moving, sometimes more slow and serene – the lighting and creative teams really got this just right!

But perhaps the reason that this show came together so well and was very enjoyable, was the frontman Guy Garvey. Throughout, Guy brought in audience participation, banter and some sections which even felt like a stand-up comedy show (future career anyone). He was fantastic at keeping the atmosphere alive and high spirits throughout which only enhanced the music even more.

I did find the whole experience a little strange. It’s the first gig in ages where I haven’t stood up and the experience did seem a little odd at first. There’s also the fact that the whole show was very stop-start unlike most rock shows I’ve seen. Oh, and the rather random cocktail night put in the middle of it. But all of this made the night special and fun and a thoroughly enjoyable show.

When I decided to see Elbow, I thought ‘It will be nice to see them once’. Now I’m looking forward to the next time. They really do know how to put on a show and their musical genius has never sounded so damn awesome!


REM: Collapse Into Now – Audio Review

March 11, 2011

Time for number 15, yes that’s right this is REM’s 15th studio album. And it’s been hyped a lot with both Mike Mills and Mike Stipe claiming they’ve never been happier with their music than they are right now.

So has ‘Collapse Into Now’ recaptured some of the earlier magic of the band from the early 90’s? Click below to hear my audio review and find out!


Elbow: Build a Rocket Boys! – Audio Review

March 8, 2011

You wait for ages for a new ablum from one of your favourite bands and then both Elbow and REM end up launching their records on the same day!

Yes, two rock legends are back and I’ll be reviewing both of their albums, starting with Elbow’s ‘Build a Rocket Boys!’.

But I thought I’d do something a bit different with these two and put my broadcasting skills to use. So please enjoy my first every audio review below, summing up the best bits with a few tunes in under five minutes.

I hope you enjoy and I do apologise for the poor sound in places, may have to invest in a microphone!

There will be a review of REM’s latest outing later this week (hopefully Thursday!).

 


Music Singles catch up with the rest of the world

January 19, 2011

The music industry is a bit archaic. When you look at the written word, photo’s and even videos, content is released as soon as possible onto the glorious network we call the internet. But music, particularly singles, doesn’t work like that. Many new songs are played for months on the radio before their official release. But that’s all about to change.

Universal and Sony have both agreed to a new ‘On Air, On Sale’ scheme which sees singles being released to the public the same day they are first played on the radio. This means that songs wont seem ‘old’ by the time we finally get our own copies of them.

The decision has most probably been driven by piracy, after all, it’s not exactly hard to record a high quality version of a song off the radio these days. This has also been tried for TV shows with many American imports being shown in the UK just days after their debut across the pond.

But whatever the reason behind the decision, I’m just pleased it has finally happened. We live in an instant world where we expect everything as soon as possible. It seems silly to have to wait weeks to download a song that we can hear on a daily basis courtesy of national radio. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for hearing songs on the radio, there is of course, but now we can finally download that catchy tune the moment we hear it (even if it is as awful as Black Eyed Peas ‘The Time’).

It’s another industry waking up to now and changing it’s old fashioned ways. Now how long will it be until digital radio switchover again…


The weekend Muse took Wembley… again!

September 13, 2010

In 2007 I saw a rock band at Wembley stadium for the very fist time, not really knowing what to expect. Little did I know that three years later I would be returning the very same stadium to see the very same band, this time as an avid fan.

The band in question are of course Muse, who finished their latest European tour at the weekend with two sell out nights at Wembley stadium. To say I was looking forward to this would be a massive understatement. I had great memories of seeing Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard under the Wembley arch and was hoping for a repeat. I was also hoping for a more striking performance that when they performed on last years Resistance tour. Not a bad show at all, but clearly not Muse at their best.

When the lights shut off in the main stadium, I can say without doubt it was the most excited I had ever been before a show.

In traditional use style, there was a bit of theatre at the start with several ‘protestors’ running on stage with banners reading ‘they will not control us’ and ‘these wars, they can’t be won’, two of Muse’s most prominent lyrics. They soon cleared to reveal the band, with frontman Matt Bellamy dressed as usual in outrageous attire, this time a sparkly silver suit.

They opened unsurprisingly with Uprising, which has surely now become the staple opener for the band. It really got the crowd going and set an atmosphere which was maintained for most of the gig. Uprising gave way to Supermassive Black Hole (Muse’s top charting single ever) before we got our first treat of the night. MK Ultra, a track of the bands latest record, ‘Resistance’. Personally I think it’s one of strongest on the album and doesn’t get played enough, so I was more than happy to experience it, even if Matt’s mic was cut off half way through.

After a return for ‘Map of the problematique’ we were also given another rare treat in ‘Bliss’. I was lucky enough to see the ‘Origin of Symmetry’ track last time Muse were at Wembley, but this performance easily topped it and was clearly one of the best moments of the night. The extended ending was simply superb.

Muse played through a couple more obvious hits, with ‘Guiding Light’ providing a brilliant spectacle when streamers were launched into the crowd whilst Matt proved why he’s a guitar hero with ‘Hysteria’.

I was not prepared for what happened next.

Citizen Erased.

It’s seen by most Muse fans as the quintessential Muse track, the band at their best. But due it’s ‘prog rock’ style and length, in recent years it hasn’t fitted with more ‘mainstream Muse’ and has been left out of most shows. I was starting to think I’d never see it live until those unmistakable drum beats signalled it’s arrival. For me it was the highlight of the night with all three members of the band putting their heart and soul into it. It was particularly pleasing to hear Bellamy’s amazing falsetto. But alas, it was evident why the song doesn’t get the gig time it deserves. I saw many people around the stadium looking on bemused at it. They sadly, just don’t understand it’s genius!

Muse kept the show going strong with a combination of more pop style sings (Starlight and Resistance) combined with their more unusual side (Unnatural Selection and surprisingly Ruled By Secrecy).

When the band returned for their first encore, they were joined by a rather bodged looking UFO! To be fair, it was rather eerie and cool at the same time, but there could have been some lights, ah well! The UFO had a spaceman/woman? performing underneath while the band performed the beautiful Exogenesis: part 1. It panned round the length of the stadium and got really rather close to the crowd.

For their second and final encore Muse really pulled out the stops, even if they were a bit obvious! Take a Bow saw Matt elevated in the centre of the stadium whilst wearing a suit full of LED’s flashing in time to the music. The traditional giant ball of ‘Plug In baby’ made a welcome return, but with a twist, they were giant eyeballs. And as we’ve become accustomed to, Chris played his harmonica proudly to signal the ONLY song to close a show with, ‘Knights of Cydonia’.

And that completes the set, one of the most original I have ever seen Muse play. It’s clear that this one was more for the fans than the night before (which saw more mainstream songs like Neutron Star Collision). It was amazing to see some of the now more rare songs performed and were done amazingly well. There were some disappointments, I was very surprised not to see ‘New Born’ make the line up, but overall, one of the best sets Muse have done in a long time.

I should also point out at this point that the set design was absolutely top notch. Such an original and different idea which worked so well with the sort of band Muse are, it was simply stunning. A big round of applause has to go out to the production team.

So that was Wembley all over again. As always I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but this was perhaps one more for the fan than the average listener of Muse. I just can’t wait for another three years so we can do it all over again!

Here’s a vid of MK Ultra from the night, I’ll upload more on my YouTube channel: