Amplifier, Old Blue Last

Amplifier, Old Blue Last, London, 28/03/15.

It’s rare you get to see your favourite band. It’s even rarer you get to see your two favourite bands within a week of each other. But it’s almost unimaginable you get to see you two favourite bands within a week of each other – twice.

Back in November 2006, I saw Muse at Manchester MEN. A week later, I saw Amplifier at the Joiners in Southampton. This week, I saw Muse at the Brighton Dome. And just last night, I saw Amplifier at the Old Blue Last in London.

A lot has changed since those first two gigs, a little matter of leaving home, moving to Cardiff, completing five years of university, relocating to Guildford to start my first ‘proper’ job. To cut a long story short, I guess I ‘grew up’ in that time. Real life started.

Happily, these two bands have been a largely consistent soundtrack during those intervening years. And Amplifier were on astonishing form last night. After a barrage of choice cuts from their latest LP, Mystoria, as well as the very first live airing of pre-album download ‘Horse’, we were treated to a real trip down memory lane, with the band delving deep into their back catalogue and digging out some of their heaviest numbers – Motorhead, Airborne, Panzer, The Consultancy and Half Life from their self-titled debut album, the majestic Strange Seas Of Thought from Insider, plus The Wave and Interstellar from The Octopus.

Despite having seen the band a number of times before, this (I think) was the first time I’ve seen them in their latest iteration following the departure of bassist and founder member Neil Mahony. Thankfully, his replacement – the laconic ‘Magnum’ – absolutely monstered both Neil’s distinctive bass hooks as well as his own, while ex-Oceansize guitarist and backing vocalist Steve Durose adds an extra layer of depth to the band’s already expansive sound. Oh, and need I even state the obvious, but drummer Matt Brobin absolutely pummels his drum kit while singer and lead guitarist Sel Balamir defty negotiates his obscenely large pedalboard without missing so much as a note.

It was raucous. It was deafening. It was unexpected. It was perfect.

Muse, Brighton Dome

Muse, Brighton Dome, 23/03/15. Support from Marmozets.

I don’t usually write a lot about all the gigs I go to if I’m not actually reviewing them, but I’ll make an exception in this case.

This was my tenth Muse gig. Yes, I know. I first saw them back in 2004, a couple of years after I got into them in a big way. I’ve seen them at the Royal Albert Hall, at the Eden Project, at Wembley Stadium, at Reading Festival, in Teignmouth, and so on, but never in such a small venue as I did on Monday night. And it was magnificent in every respect.

Long have Muse had their heads in the clouds (or up their arses, each to their own) so when they announced their stripped back seventh album Drones and incendiary lead release Psycho, it seemed only right for them to go back to the roots and revisit a few of the dinkier venues where they made their name as the best live band around. Last night felt very much like a celebration of that journey.

The Stranglers, G Live

Steve Porter, TMS

The Stranglers made an uproarious return to Guildford on Thursday (March 5) with a triumphant, hit-laden homecoming at G Live.

Some 40 years after founder members, Guilfordian drummer Jet Black and and singer Hugh Cornwell, met in the mid-70s, the band led hundreds of devotees on a career-spanning trip down memory lane at the venue in London Road.

Pounding renditions of the ubiquitous Golden Brown, with its skittish harpsichord swells, and sleazy stomper Peaches are obvious highlights, although No More Heroes was conspicuous by its absence.

It was back in 1974 that Black, real name John Duffy, and Cornwell formed The Guildford Stranglers, who were initially based out of The Jackpot, the off-licence run by the enterprising young Black.

The duo soon recruited bassist Jean-Jacques Burnel, a former Royal Grammar School pupil, who was joined by guitarist Hans Wärmling and keyboardist Dave Greenfield.

But after penning some of the band’s most immediately recognisable numbers, Cornwell later bowed out in 1990 and was replaced by Paul Roberts before Mackem Baz Warne took centre stage in 2006.

“Last time we were here, youse all said you couldn’t understand me, man!” drawls Warne in his thick Wearside drawl.

“Am I too northern for you?” he jests, shortly after the band walk on Waltzinblack, the opening track from The Stranglers’ 1981 album, The Gospel According to the Meninblack – best remembered as the theme music from eccentric TV chef Keith Floyd’s madcap cooking shows.

It’s almost exactly a year since the band last played G Live, but there are no signs of the band not being welcome back.

Every song is met with rapturous applause, every lyric belted out by a rag, tag and bobtail bunch of fans, many of whom have been with the band right from the very start.

Steve Porter, TMS
Steve Porter, TMS

After a high octane set by fellow 70s new wave punks The Rezillos, Warne and co rip into The Raven with its swirling synths, pulsing bassline and staccato guitar riff and also I’ve Been Wild, which despite being one of the band’s (relatively) newer numbers has a big, brash chorus befitting any Stranglers classic.

Deputising on drums, Jim MacAulay stands aside midway through the band’s set to allow sticksman Black to take the limelight, cue pandemonium as Black counts in Baroque Bordello, which sounds like some kind of demented fairground ride led by Greenfield’s synths.

Immediately, the lights go up around G Live, bathing the venue in a warm golden glow – everyone knows what’s coming, but the iconic harpsichord intro of Golden Brown is enough to make even the most hardened Stranglers fan’s hairs stand on end.

The song leaps and jolts between time signatures from phrase to phrase, an ode both to the tangled mind of a desperate heroin addiction and Cornwell’s fascination with a mysterious temptress. It’s long been heralded their greatest accomplishment, and with good reason.

Black remains on the drums for an equally well-received airing of Always The Sun, sparking another deafening sing-along to its soaring chorus, and also Genetix.

The run-in sees the band drop a squelching, grimy version of Peaches, propelled by Burnel’s burbling bass and Warne’s scabrous sneers, before the set is rounded out with Duchess, Lost Control, Curfew and finally Down in the Sewer.

With time in hand, there’s just room for an encore featuring Hanging Around – but there is no place in the set, oddly, for the anthemic No More Heroes, which elucidates a few murmurs of discontent from the masses.

It’s the only blot on an otherwise exultant homecoming for The Stranglers.

James Chapple

Originally published on Get Surrey, 06/03/15

Martin Harley Band, The Boileroom

There is an old, perhaps hackneyed, saying – what goes around comes around.

The logic being sooner or later, everyone finds themselves in the right place at the right time at least once or twice in life.

For Martin Harley, his star has arguably risen anew in light of a ‘tweevolution’ in the charts.

Not long before his show at The Boileroom on February 27, breakthrough folksters Mumford & Sons were unveiled as one this year’s Reading Festival headliners, hot on the heels of their 2013 headlining show at Glastonbury.

A slew of like acts, not to mention the return of Fleetwood Mac, has inspired an acoustic folk and blues revival in recent years, breathing new life into a genre of music that has long been dormant, at least in terms of mainstream acclaim.

Now, in light of old-fashioned blues and folk finding chart-topping success, Martin Harley similarly finds himself riding the crest of a popular wave, one which sees him, unsurprisingly, draw quite a crowd at The Boileroom.

Hailing originally from south Wales, Harley’s family moved to Woking in his youth so Friday’s show also comes as something of a homecoming for the bluesy troubadour, who has taken his act around the world since penning his 2003 eponymous debut album.

While delivering a career-spanning set, there is still a particular focus on 2012’s Mojo Fix, the title track of which provides a rip-roaring introduction to Harley’s music and his consummate showmanship after more than a decade on the road.

Blessed with a voice that carries a certain tenderness that resonates beautifully around the intimate environs of a venue like The Boileroom, Harley peppers his set with an early salvo of saccharine acoustic numbers.

Yet he holds back a fiery, snarling, rasping yelp that propels some of his more lairy numbers, which, after a slightly hokey start, drives the second half of the show on to a more raucous conclusion.

A fitting centrepiece is Harley’s cover of Tom Waits’ brilliantly twisted Chocolate Jesus, which despite being given a cutesy makeover by Harley and co, loses none of the intensity of Waits’ gloomy original.

During the latter stages of his set, Harley, his bassist and drummer, fully unplug and serenade The Boileroom completely acoustic.

It’s a poignant moment, if a little corny, but it’s as brilliantly judged as it is received. Again, it speaks of Harley’s stagecraft, as well as the crowd’s polite reverence, that the venue falls deathly silent while Harley’s gentle croons wash over proceedings.

However, the set thankfully culminates with a vicious flurry of slide guitar numbers, including a spellbinding rendition of Love In The Afternoon where we see the Martin Harley Band, as a collective, finally cut loose.

It feels like a fitting conclusion after a topsy-turvy journey through Harley’s influences and heritage, which he wears proudly on his sleeve.

Martin Harley clearly has the skill, talent and presence to grace venues far in excess of the size of The Boileroom so it is with gusto the crowd give him the warmest of send offs after a near hour-and-a-half set; catch him now while he’s still doing the rounds.

James Chapple

Pictures by Sophie Garrett.

Originally published on Get Surrey, 03/03/15