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Goodnight Lenin

November 7th, 2010

It’s about time we at Purple Amp Towers declared for our new favourite Birmingham band – Goodnight Lenin.

Earlier in the year a buzz built up around these feisty young folk kids, largely due to extensive coverage across BBC Radio, on 6 Music, Radio 2 and WM. So much so, they were given the honour of headlining the Lunar stage and warming up for Donovan at this year’s Moseley Folk Festival. They did not disappoint.

They put a modern twist on the obvious references of Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan, adding in really quite beautiful vocal harmonies and a real innocent quality.

Ragged Schools and Crook In The Creek are standout tracks and if the debut album matches up to the quality they’ve produced so far, don’t bet against it catapulting them to instant stardom.

Get well soon Lily

November 7th, 2010

Poor Lily Allen. A matter of days after losing a baby for the second time, she’s back in hospital with blood poisoning. Life’s not fair sometimes. Get well soon Lily xxx

Review – The Social Network

November 3rd, 2010

I took my first trip to the cinema in months last night, donning my trusty Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt for the geekiest film of the year. A film about a website. My mother must be so proud.

I’ve always been interested in stories of entrepreneurs, due to a heady mix of admiration and jealousy. I see myself as an ideas man but lacking that special something to make them happen. Forget Alan Sugar or Richard Branson, the internet has spawned a new generation of entrepreneurs where anything is possible. Along comes someone like Mark Zuckerberg, who creates a worldwide phenomenon in a matter of weeks. You can’t help admire the guy, especially when it dawns on you you’re three years his senior.

So anyway, knowing the basic story of Facebook I went into this film expecting exactly what I got. A dramatised version of events with a healthy dose of fiction and humour thrown in to spice things up.

The major question mark for me was the ending. Mark sits in front of Facebook refreshing a page hoping his ex-girlfriend will accept his friend request. The End. It’s a scene that no doubt meets with an uncomfortable acknowledgement for many, but ending the film with him pining for a girl who barely features in the plot was not satisfying. It felt almost anti-climatic, but what else could be expected? How else do you end a film about an entrepreneur and his product which is still flying? On that note, perhaps this type of film would be more interesting based on Boo.com, Napster or numerous other turbulent internet businesses from days of yore. But that wouldn’t have had the same broad appeal. The thing is with Facbook is whether you love it or love to hate it, you know it.

Jesse Eisenberg is impressive as the aloof detached Mark Zuckerberg while there’s an amusing part for Justin Timberlake as Napster founder Sean Parker, although the character grates very quickly. I was in my geeky element throughout the film, but I can’t help wonder if the lack of any real plot or action would seriously bore the pants off a “normal” person.

In conclusion, there are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary, and those who don’t. If that joke makes you laugh, you will love The Social Network. If you didn’t realise it was a joke, steer clear.

Anais Mitchell – Hadestown

November 1st, 2010

I’m playing catch up a bit here, as I first discovered Hadestown whilst researching storytelling albums during the late springtime. Anais Mitchell’s gravelly innocence has spawned a number of solo albums, but her folk opera Hadestown has blown me – and many others – completely away.

It’s a concept album based on the Ancient Greek Orpheus myth, arching from the polite, delicate opening exchanges between Orpheus and Eurydice on Wedding Song, to the deep south influenced jamboree of Way Down Hadestown.

My love of folk music is often derided by friends and acquaintances but I challenge anyone not to be spellbound by this creation, which is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Even having said that, the individual parts are mightily impressive. Anais brings in countless guests to play the various characters in the story, most notably for me the wonderful Ani DiFranco playing the part of Persephone. DiFranco was Anais’ childhood idol, she then signed to her label and now for them to be collaborating is a lovely story in itself.

But that’s not where the story ends. I had the pleasure of seeing Anais live at the Hare and Hounds in October, accompanied by the Hadestown arranger Michael Chorney. Towards the end of the show, she announced a one-off performance of Hadestown with Ani DiFranco and Martin Carthy at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. No prizes for where I’ll be heading in January!

It’s hard to sum up the Americana splendour of Hadestown, so I’ll leave you with some quotes and a sampler for you to make your mind up, but please, do spend an hour of your time listening to Hadestown (Spotify) in its entirety, you shall be rewarded.

See you in Glasgow!

“the earthiness of Shawn Colvin, the child-like bite of Joanna Newsom, and the urban jumpiness of Ani DiFranco” – AllMusic on Anais Mitchell

The songs are lyrical, while dramatic arrangements encompass Dixieland, string sextet and country. A rich, audacious and moving opus – The Observer on Hadestown

Anaïs Mitchell adds another record to this coveted pile, comfortably aligning herself with Sufjan Stevens, Joanna Newsom and the like in the process: singer-songwriters possessing both the audacity to take on brain-weltingly big concepts and the sheer talent required to pull them off. It is, simply, irresistible – Drowned in Sound on Hadestown

“Wedding Song”, both parts performed by Anais Mitchell:

“Why We Build The Wall” (feat. Greg Brown) and “Our Lady of the Underground” (feat Ani DiFranco):

The Day Music Died

July 15th, 2010

Farewell to the Basement

July 7th, 2010

Sad news reaches Purple Amp Towers – the Basement Bar is to close this month. Over to Basement supremo Aimee:

“It is with a heavy hearts filled to bursting with 12 whole months of fun that we must announce that The Basement will soon be shutting its doors for good. Sad faces all round, we know.

‘The Man’ has loved having us rent his unused, unwanted basement for ramshackle, packed out, rowdy, rowdy funtimes so much that when it came to renewing our lease he has more than tripled the yearly rent, to which we cannot rise. (Maybe they can turn it into another Subway?)”

This quite frankly sucks, but also fills me with a slight guilt of not having been down there in quite some time. The Basement was not only an Oxjam venue last year, it also served as the HQ for the day and Aimee and co were incredibly hospitable hosts all the way through – especially with the Sambucas. HONK!

Still, there’s plenty more chances to enjoy the place for the next week or so with what’s basically a party-a-night philosophy. Well, if you’re gonna out, go out in style!

Check out their Facebook group for the full line-up.

Glastonbury 2010

June 30th, 2010

I’m a fan of festivals but have never been to Glastonbury.

There’s no real reason why, I’ve just never fancied it, perhaps it’s the scale of the the thing that puts me off. But why should that bother me? I know I’d spend all of my time on my own in the forests and such like seeing weird global orchestras with vuvzelas and finding my creative side – I’d probably come back master of some quirky South American craft.

Okay, the real reason is I’ve not been able to afford it!

Anyway my good mate Andy went this year for the first time and has written a spanking good review, which you can read here. I suggest you do. NOW!

On my list for next year was to be the EXIT Festival in Serbia, for the novelty of going to a festival abroad, but perhaps I should join the Glasto ticket scrum instead. After all, if it’s good enough for Doctor Who…

Digbeth Institute Almost Ready

June 29th, 2010

Thanks to the heads-up from Created in Birmingham, I see the website for the new HMV Institute is now live. Well I say new, it is of course the old Sanctuary, refurbished by the Mean Fiddler Group and returned to its original name of the Institute.

A few years ago its cavernous rooms were home to the awesome Saturday club night PANIC! and its basement was home to the Barfly, where I DJd for a while. The Institute holds good memories for me, so I hope it’s latest reincarnation as a full-time gig venue pays off. It’s a welcome development to add to the diversity of Digbeth’s live music scene and a more than welcome challenger to the Academy monopoly on mid-size gigs.

There’s some cracking gigs on the way with The Drums, The Psychedelic Furs, Kate Nash and Sandi Thom all pencilled in. But perhaps most intriguing is the reunion of space-rock legends Gong on 20th September.

So join me as we jump in the flying teapot and zoom off to the Planet Gong!

Oxjam Brum takeover Urban Coffee

June 26th, 2010

Alex Moir at Urban Coffee Company for Oxjam BrumRight, back to Birmingham!

Plans for Oxjam Brum 2010 are well underway and the preview events have begun. Yesterday I stopped by the one and only Urban Coffee Company for an evening of music and arts, supported by Oxjam Brum, INKwell Print, GotSeeN and Mostly Jazz Festival.

Live acoustic sets in a coffee shop can work really well and Urban Coffee is an ideal location. Couple that with the perfect start time, 5pm on a Friday, and you have the ingredients for a great evening.

Unfortunately it was way too hot inside, even with Urban Coffee’s fabulous new coffee ice-cream, chilled Pimms and Cofftails on offer! There was also limited seating upstairs, so I only stuck around long enough to hear Alex Moir.

You don’t expect such powerful gravelly tones from one so young and the songwriting shows real potential too. It’s definitely worth your time checking out his MySpace.

Despite having to leave, it wasn’t the end of the evening for me. The Oxjam team covered the event online with live streaming, regular tweets and photos hitting the interwebs all evening. So the remaining acts Eliza Little, Marlem and Tom Peel weren’t complete strangers to me! Good job, folks.

I hope this is something both Oxjam and Urban Coffee look to continue, but perhaps ordering slightly cooler weather next time?

Weezer – Represent

June 26th, 2010

Can it be true? Is California really the new home of the football song? Hot on the heels of Purple Amp’s favourite footie anthem of 2010, Eux Autres’ lo-fi wonder World Cup Fever, comes this little ditty from Weezer – REPRESENT!

Now I’ll level with you, I have a soft spot for the US team. I’d go as far as to say they’re my second team after the obvious, something i can only admit now both sides are safely though group C. And as Weezer are one of my favourite bands, there’s an obvious interest here.

Represent is typical Weezer fare and wouldn’t be out of place on Raditude. It’s simplicity – you do wonder if Rivers penned it on the back of a fag packet over a beer – is key to the song’s appeal. But the promising start is let down by the climax of the chorus. Although the lyrics read “But thats just one more reason to see that it matters whether you win or lose”, because of the way the chorus is constructed all you really hear is “whether you win or lose” – hardly the inspiring stuff of champions.

One question the song fails to answer – and places it in the same category as so many England football songs of the past – is what do you do with a football song video? The Represent video is an uncomfortable mix of clips of the US team taking on the giants of world football (like, err, Costa Rica and Turkey) and Rivers Cuomo in typical charity record “doing-my-bit-hand-on-headphones” pose.

Check it out for yourself…