One day, I might actually start putting some things here that aren’t either from several lifetimes ago and/or infantile. Until then, this is eternity.
For all the trials, tribulations and tearing my hair out, I don’t half get to do some cool things courtesy of my job.
I’ve visited Auschwitz, I’ve seen one of my favourite bands Ash play… in Ash and I’ve set a hot lap at the Top Gear test track.
So it was with no second invitation I gamely joined colleague Tom Smurthwaite at Mercedes-Benz World to meet a rather special guest – that’s him at the top, the bloke in the white top looking 7,373,245x cooler than us two numpties.
Yes, on Thursday, we got to spend an afternoon at Brooklands – and a few fraught minutes with former McLaren driver, three times F1 champion and all round nice bloke Lewis Hamilton.
Lewis thrashed us around the Brooklands test track while we tried to lob a few questions in his direction – and keep our lunches down. Easier said than done.
So what, I hear you ask, did we establish? Well, Lewis has been impressed with new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas’s performance, he’s looking forward to the new season and the 2017 rule changes, and our little sortie at Brooklands, when Lewis was (so far as we were concerned) absolutely nailing it, was the small matter of ‘about 5%’ of what he experiences in F1. Eeesh.
“Any plans to move here [Surrey]?” quipped Tom.
“Nope. It’s the weather – it’s freakin’ cold! Maybe in the future though, when things settle down,” said Lewis.
You heard it here first.
We also had a quick nose round Mercedes-Benz World itself, which is a pretty incredible place too. Besides all the track experiences, the centre is, well, as shrine to all things Mercedes, on and off the track. It’s free all year round so you can drop in when you like. They even show the races live on Sundays in the building’s two cinemas – again, completely free.
There’s even an exploded F1 car – 3,200 components carefully and meticulously strung up from the rafters. It took three months to make. If you’re an F1 fan, it’s kind of awe-inspiring, it must be said.
You can see our full video package from Brooklands over at Get Surrey.
Placebo, Brighton Centre
I reckon it was circa 2001 I came home from school to my Nan’s house, flicked to Kerrang! or MTV2 and caught the tail end of Nancy Boy. She had Sky y’see, and that song was ALWAYS on.
It’s hard to underestimate what an effect those few minutes viewing had on my taste and interest in music. I owe my appreciation for so many of my favourite bands to those snatched half hours I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted – imagine sitting your 70-something Nan down and showing her Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit. Well that was us 15 years ago. Hurr.
Through Nancy Boy, Pure Morning and later, The Bitter End, Placebo got under my skin. In my 12/13-year-old innocence, I had absolutely no idea what Nancy Boy was all about – probably for the best.
But sheesh, they aren’t half a frustrating, difficult band to love. For every stroke of brilliance, there are half a dozen stinkers, and then there is their famous reluctance to air the classics live. IIRC, Nancy Boy was mothballed for a decade at one stage. Wut?
In fact, I think for many years, I actually had no desire whatsoever to see them live. I always have been a fairweather Placebo fan – their 2004 singles collection Once More With Feeling was (and remains) just about all the Placebo I need in my life, the notable exception being their utterly brilliant 2009 album Battle For The Sun.
And then, 15 years in waiting, Placebo earlier this year announced a 20th anniversary tour promising all the hits for, in the 2016 ticket market, the bargain price of £27.50 – a tour which included an atypically dinky show in the grand scheme of things at the Brighton Centre. Omg.
It came round sooner than expected actually (Wednesday night, to be precise), or perhaps that was just out of my longing for this absolute shitshow of a year to be over – something not lost on the band.
The show opens with playback of Leonard Cohen’s Who By Fire while archive footage of David Bowie is laid over the visuals for Without You I’m Nothing. At the other end of the spectrum, the ghastly visage of Donald Trump is branded on a pack of cigs during one song, complete with health warning. Apt.
Brighton comes alive from the droning opening strums of Pure Morning, brought back especially for this tour after a nine-year absence from the band’s setlists (again, why?). No matter, it sounds a fresh as it did when it was released in 1998, Brian Molko’s vocal is spot on, and the lyrics are every bit as nonsensical as ever.
The hulking two-and-a-quarter hour, career-spanning 25-song set navigates the band’s proudest and deepest melancholy cuts, culminating in a brutal version of 1996 debut album closer Lady Of The Flowers.
“That’s the end of what we like to call the melancholy section tonight,” says Molko to cheers from the crowd. “Hah! People usually boo at that point,” he jokes, acutely aware of the band’s historically dark, brooding image, persona and, vitally, perception. Let us not forget the vitriol some reserve for Placebo; they are, to abuse a cliché, one of those ‘Marmite’ bands.
“There’s only so much melancholia we can play,” he continues. “It is our birthday party after all – who’s ready to party?”
Cue a raucous finalé – For What It’s Worth, Slave To The Wage, a bananas version of Special K, A Song To Say Goodbye and finally, my personal favourite (which totally did not disappoint), The Bitter End. And we breathe – briefly.
Two encores ensure. Nancy Boy sends Brighton into raptures, while their now customary cover of Kate Bush classic Running Up That Hill is a fitting closing number. I was secretly hoping they’d dust off Taste In Men just for us, but it was not to be. It didn’t matter.
I tried to sum up my thoughts in a tweet straight after the show. In short; this was every single bit the Placebo gig I’ve patiently waited the best part of the past 15 years for, ever since I saw Nancy Boy at my Nan’s house.
Placebo – tick. Done.
We Are Scientists, The Boileroom
Every great party needs a great soundtrack.
And during the mid-noughties, We Are Scientists were THAT band.
Following the success of 2005 LP With Love And Squalor, New York City’s indie also-rans were on every self-respecting night club playlist and on shuffle at every great student house party.
Even if you somehow managed to avoid their charms, there was no escaping tracks like Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt and The Great Escape.
More than 10 years hence and not a whole lot has changed, albeit those soaring heights the band once enjoyed are perhaps not what they were.
Trading academies for clubs, We Are Scientists earlier this year announced a mammoth UK tour in support of sixth album Helter Seltzer.
And after traversing the country from Glasgow to Gloucester, finishing up in Barrow-in-Furness of all places next month, Keith Murray and co rocked up at a sold-out Boileroom in Guildford on Sunday night.
With his now trademark silver fringe still very much intact, singer and guitarist Murray, who still inexplicably looks about 15, along with bassist Chris Cain and drummer Keith Carne bound onto the venue’s cosy stage just after 8.30pm (it is Sunday, after all).
Both apt and somewhat ironic, opening number This Scene Is Dead sets the tone for the night – while the band tread some new ground, this tour is a celebration of their heyday.
The crowd, packed with 20-somethings, greet them warmly, as you would an old friend you’ve not seen in a while.
“Can you all just be silent please,” jokes Murray after the band’s uncharacteristically quiet and somewhat inauspicious opener has someone behind the scenes reaching for the volume knob.
Sound levels fixed, the trio dip liberally into With Love during their hour-long set, which is also peppered with highlights from six LPs spanning nearly 15 years, including two cuts creamed from Helter Seltzer.
Nobody Move has The Boileroom pulsing and mid-way through the set, Murray hands over his guitar to guest Joel Dilla and conducts the crowd from the barrier.
Only then does he ease himself into the throng for a walkabout.
Always with an ace up their sleeves, We Are Scientists marvel in being able to control the tempo of their set in a stroke.
Slower songs are juxtaposed against the band’s more jangly moments while their stage patter is second to none. They even stop to play with their effects pedals for a bit, just because.
The Great Escape, another stonewall mid-noughties earworm, rounds out the band’s main set heralding perhaps the most enthusiastic response of the night. Shapes are thrown.
“I’ve got a great idea! I’ve got to wait right here!” bellows Murray, his every word echoed by The Boileroom faithful who bellow them straight back.
Nice Guys and After Hours bring proceedings to a close. Respects are paid, hands are grasped in the front row, emotions run high. This has been a really special night for a whole lot of people.
Is this scene dead? Probably. Do the memories live on? Definitely. We Are Scientists will always occupy a special place in the hearts of a generation of indie kids.
Sunday’s Boileroom show and the band’s huge UK tour serves only to affirm it.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 19/10/16
Top Oh Dear
Okay, that’s official the worst headline I’ve ever written. But nevermind.
This week, me, and my Get Surrey colleagues Michael Pearson and Georgina Townshend, were revealed as the new hosts of Top Gear.
Well, actually, no – not really. Let me explain.
Top Gear has long been shot at Dunsfold Park, just a few minutes drive down the road from our office in Guildford. We loosely cover developments on the show, particlarly filming of the new-look shot post Clarkson, Hammond and May.
And after a bit of badgering, the team down at Dunsfold Park were kind enough to invite us down to experience a bit of the Top Gear magic for ourselves, namely, an Ariel Atom driving experience for Michael while Georgie went out for a spin with The Stig.
Me? Well the honour fell to me to set a laptime on behalf of Get Surrey and become, for one lap only, the star in a reasonably priced car.
On what Clarkson and co might call a ‘mildly moist’ track, my instructor guided me round a practice lap in the track’s Kia Cee’d and with just that single lap under my belt, I gave it the beans.
The result – a stirling, dare I say it so myself, 1:52:17 on what my instructor later upgrated to a ‘very wet’ track. Not bad, not bad at all.
Get Surrey; slower than Jonathan Ross and Nick Robinson, but faster than Louie Spence. Bonza.
Band of Skulls, The Boileroom
“This is the start of a new era,” says Band of Skulls frontman Russell Marsden.
It’s Thursday night at The Boileroom and Guildford’s getting loose. It feels like a Friday – this is going to be good.
Up on stage though, things are far from loose. Band of Skulls’ mercilessly tight grooves mingle with all the ferocity of Queens Of The Stone Age yet the simplicity of AC/DC.
Notes are never spare, stray or squandered, beats are as prickly as they punchy – “on point”, one might say.
It’s all the more remarkable then this is the very first night of Band of Skulls’ “new era”.
LP4 “By Default” drops on May 27 and tonight’s typically intimate, sweaty show at The Boileroom is, unsurprisingly, a sell-out.
This is a band both used to, and destined to continue, selling out considerably bigger venues, a band for whom critical acclaim was never lavished, but hard-earned – and richly deserved.
“We’re going to try and play as much as we can for you guys,” chimes Marsden, a broad smile on his face, only partially masked by his immaculately straight brown hair.
The band, completed by bassist Emma Richardson and drummer Matt Hayward, visibly itch to cut straight to the new material they’re clearly so eager to share. They waste no time in doing so.
Title track of sorts, In Love by Default, builds slowly but logically from small flecks of reverb-soaked guitar to a thunderous, wailing refrain driven by Richardson’s yelps of “Yeah, Yeah, YEAH!”, The Boileroom all the while bathed in stark blue light.
Album opener Black Magic, by comparison, is a gloriously straight-forward affair, a bruising stomper and bona fide fan favourite in the making.
This is gutsy blues fare, picking up from where the likes of The Black Keys lost their way and Tame Impala deviated.
In total, the band air seven of By Default’s 12 tracks. The songs are rough, ready and raw, not yet weary from months on the road. Perhaps the most immediate of them is Killer, the first official release from By Default.
It’s a dirty number, propelled by Marsden and Richardson’s interlocking fretwork and a vitriolic chorus of “Killer, Killer, KILLER!”.
The crowd have done their homework though; they holler every word straight back at the band. One punter, meanwhile, repeatedly asks Richardson to marry him – he gets a smile and a raised fist in his direction.
Old favourites punctuate the band’s hour-long set. Ikwia gives Marsden a chance to show off his chops while Sweet Sour brings to mind Angus Young in all his schoolboy pomp.
2014’s “Himalayan” is represented by its eponymous title track and the gonzo Hoochie Coochie, an oh-so brief flashback to Wolfmother’s cocksure schtick.
Vocal duties flit between Marsden and Richardson, save for those rare moments when they come together in effortless harmony – to great effect.
Light of the Morning and Diamonds and Pearls bring the band’s main set to a ringing crescendo, the latter complete with one brave crowd surfer writhing atop the seething melée on the floor, steadying himself with a reassuring hand on the ceiling.
As ever, The Boileroom’s “encore problem” is as quaint and endearing as it is bemusing, if only because it makes such delightful mockery of the ludicrous idea an encore in 2016 is any more spontaneous than it is an expectation.
“We’d normally head out for a half [pint] and a fag,” quips Marsden. “But, you know, there’s no way out – so we’ll just play a couple more.”
First up is the aforementioned Killer, but the absolutely bonkers Asleep at the Wheel is a more fitting finale, its frequent and dramatic changes of tempo serving only to further accentuate Marsden’s bellowed refrain of “Cause where we are going is anyone’s guess!”.
With one final flurry of riffs, the trio are done. Marsden strides to the front of the stage and presses himself up against the barrier, proffering his guitar to the audience in recognition of their spirit.
One can only hope it has been as memorable a return for the band as it has been a welcome one for their flock.
Photos by Jake Darling.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 29/04/16.
The Stranglers, G Live (again)
Ahhh, The Stranglers – Guildford’s very own men in black are back for another trip down memory lane at G Live.
In fact, it’s their fifth March gig in five years at G Live – and it kind of shows, just a little.
Tonight, after a turn by tour mates The Alarm, we’re treated to the band’s 1978 album Black and White in its entirety.
Never ones for airs and graces, it’s 45 minutes until Stranglers frontman Baz Warne so much as goes near the mic between numbers.
“If you were a bit confused by that, you didn’t buy the f*****g album in 1978, did you?” he sneers in a broad, Mackem yammer.
Turning to JJ Burnel, bassist and RGS old boy, Warne adds: “He [Burnel] says you’re a bit less constipated tonight.”
It’s the closest thing this crowd are going to get to a compliment tonight.
The music’s as good as ever though. Raw, raucous and simmering with the same righteous anger that so defined the band during the late-70s.
Tank’s driving chords, manic keys and yelps of “I can drive [drive!] my very own tank!” segue effortlessly into the brilliantly grotty Nice N’ Sleazy, propelled by one of Burnel’s signature bass riffs.
It’s undoubtedly a treat for devotees, but it comes at a price. The first half of the show, illuminated only in monochrome, just feels a little flat.
The bonkers Norfolk Coast and gnarly Lose Control get things back on track, followed up by a boisterous rendition of Always The Sun, heralding the first singalong of note of the evening.
And it’s to the band’s credit the momentum only builds further, closing out the main set with I Feel Like A Wog and the anthemic Something Better Change, which feels as relevant now as it did in 1977.
There’s no Jet Black tonight, the band’s septuagenarian drummer and founder member above whose offie in Guildford the band formed in the 70s – and whom they welcomed back for a few numbers during last year’s show at G Live.
Equally conspicuous by their absence are a handful of the band’s best known songs, namely Duchess, Hanging Around and Golden Brown.
The biggest cheer of the night though is reserved for encore opener Peaches. It’s a filthy tune, underpinned by another one of Burnel’s masterful squally basslines and Warne’s sleazy snarls.
There’s just time for No More Heroes and that’s it. It’s another typically brash, brusque and belligerent Stranglers performance.
But it’s hard not to feel this annual pilgrimage may just have lost its way a little – and that the band’s hometown faithful deserved a little bit more than they got.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 15/03/16
Bowling For Soup, G Live
Good old Bowling For Soup, the Texan pop-punkers who just wouldn’t let 2002 go – and are still steadfastly refusing to do so if their latest How About Another Round? tour is anything to go by.
“I read an article recently that said pop-punk was DEAD,” muses frontman Jaret Reddick during the band’s typically playful show at Guildford’s G Live on Wednesday night (February 10).
He’s barely changed a jot since the band got together in the mid-90s, save for the paunch – that’s new: “I have to share the fat guy jokes with Chris [Burney, guitarist] now,” he jokes.
“Well we’re here to show pop-punk is NOT dead – it’s just on viagra,” roars Reddick mid-set, launching into a medley of classics from Blink 182, Green Day, New Found Glory and Jimmy Eat World, not to mention a full rendition of Fountains of Wayne mega-hit Stacy’s Mom.
The band’s high-octane show is, however, tempered throughout by their impeccable stage patter – and the fact they have a fully functioning bar up on stage with them.
Indeed, the whole show is set in their very own Ye Olde Soup Inn, complete with darts board and beer kegs that shoot flames 20ft into the air. Cerebral it is not, fun it most definitely is.
While it would be easy to dismiss the band’s puerile musings (expect knob jokes and fart gags) and childish antics (Reddick announces himself by belching into his microphone) as crass, it’s impossible to fault the band’s infectious enthusiasm and lust for performance.
The show has more than a whiff of cabaret about it, which is all-pervasive from opening act Lacey through compere MC Lars, who does his best to get the crowd onboard by rapping Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven (“who’s that rapping, who’s that rapping, who’s that rapping at my chamber door?” – you get the joke) and finally main support The Dollyrots.
The trio bound onstage with all the gusto you would expect of a band who have long been touring partners with the Bowling For Soup guys.
Almost completely hidden behind her faintly ridiculous over-sized bass guitar, diminutive singer Kelly Ogden yelps and wails like a banshee through the band’s short and sweet set alongside partner and guitarist Luis Cabezas.
Introducing a punked-up cover of Melanie’s Brand New Key, Odgen jokes: “In our country, this song is about sex – not farmyard machinery,” referring to The Wurzels’ classic “Combine Harvester” cover. It’s a remarkably acute reference, particularly for an American act.
They make a decent racket though, and even bring their young son River on for a quick word with the Guildford faithful. It’s that kind of show, although River is far more interested in licking the microphone than chatting with the audience.
After another slightly laboured stint by MC Lars, Bowling For Soup – Reddick, Burney, bassist Erik Chandler and drummer Gary Wiseman – take to the stage and tear into The Bitch Song, followed up by Emily – two of the bands biggest hits.
“I know we’re just two songs in, but would you agree Bowling For Soup are already the greatest band you have ever seen?” asks Reddick. G Live largely agrees.
Fan favourite Punk Rock 101 soon follows, sped up what feels like ten times, as does the band’s cover of SR-71’s 1985 and the aforementioned pop-punk medley.
They’re joined by The Dollyrots on Love Ya, Love Ya, Love Ya before closing out their main set with High School Never Ends, culminating in a slightly demented singalong as the crowd bellow the main riff back at them.
Rather than disappear back stage for a breather ahead of the customary encore, the band instead simply sidle over to their stage bar for a beer and a few shots.
“We’ve solved the encore,” claims Reddick, and he’s right, to an extent, as any Bowling For Soup fan worth their salt could tell you what was coming – a twin sucker-punch of Shut-Up And Smile followed by Girl All The Bad Guys Want, without a shadow of a doubt the band’s finest hour.
It would be churlish to call it an anticlimax in much the same way it would if you didn’t expect Wheatus, for instance, to close out their shows with Teenage Dirtbag.
The first note of Girl… alone sends everyone bananas. Writhing mosh pits seethe with sweaty, smiling Guildfordians while the pyrotechnics lick at the rafters.
It may well have been the finale everyone was expecting, but it’s nonetheless absolutely the right one.
Not much has changed about Bowling For Soup since they rode the wave that was pop-punk the best part of 15 years ago.
They’re fiercely proud of their Texan roots and it’s heartwarming to see the band met with such affection, albeit despite not quite managing to sell-out G Live tonight.
Bowling For Soup certainly achieve what they set out to show. Pop-punk is most definitely not dead; in fact, it doesn’t even need viagra yet.
Pictures by Sophie Garrett.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 11/02/16
Ash… in Ash
I wrote a little ditty about this earlier this year – essentially, a man from the newspaper patch area I cover won a competition to bring the band Ash to his back garden… in the Surrey village of Ash. It was one of the most fun mornings I can recall, and a real treat for me as a big Ash fan.
So here are some of the pics I took that morning that have been lurking on my phone for quite some time, and a few courtesy of one of our photographers.
Wheatus, The Boileroom
While bands come and go and eventually fade into obscurity, truly great songs always stand the test of time.
Nonetheless, there always has been – and seemingly always will be – a stigma attached to the label of ‘one-hit wonder’.
Wheatus are refreshing insofar as they cherish their 2000 monster hit Teenage Dirtbag. Yes, it really has been 15 years since ‘that song’ came out – but we’ll get back to that later.
After gracing The Boileroom stage in Guildford less than a year ago, Wheatus returned on Friday (October 9) as part of their celebratory 15th anniversary tour.
And it was every bit the raucous celebration you would imagine; what Wheatus manage so successfully is to put on an old-fashioned request show – with a strong backbone.
That backbone tonight is the band’s eponymous debut album, which they have been interspersing throughout their set in its entirety – give or take a song here and there – during their 20-date UK tour, which wrapped up in Brighton on Monday (October 12).
Tonight, we get the lot, from opener Truffles through closer Wannabe Gangstar. For anyone who remembers this album from their teenage years – and there are no shortage of them in the crowd – this is a real treat.
In fact, it’s probably fair to say that for many of packed into a sold-out Boileroom, Wheatus might well have been, and might well still be, something of a guilty pleasure.
Wheatus revel in their lack of cool; it almost defines them. They stick up for the outcasts and the downtrodden. Their songs are eminently relatable, evoking teenage angst as if it were currency.
The night is made all the more joyous, if slightly peculiar, by seeing a room largely full of 20-somethings belting out every word to songs like Punk Ass Bitch and Love Is A Mutt From Hell.
Lyrics like ‘Hey Mr Brown, don’t have a cow!’ hark back to the mid-90s when Wheatus were formed and these songs were hewn – you can almost imagine singer and songwriter Brendan B Brown channelling his inner Bart Simpson.
With his distinctive guitar style, which sees him caress and pluck at his strings rather than hammer at them with a plectrum, Brown comes across as the reluctant rock star, albeit one who within 15 seconds of taking to the stage is clambering onto the barrier and thrusting himself into the crowd.
Like the crowd last night though, I can hear you thinking – ‘yeah, but what about THAT SONG?’. Trust me, we’ll get to that.
To be fair to the crowd, it was at least a good two-thirds into the band’s set before the first concerted call for Teenage Dirtbag.
“You’ll get your Dirtbag,” quips Brown with a knowing smile, taking requests which sees the band air other fan favourites like Lemonade and The London Sun. A rare cut from their back catalogue even gets a debut airing in the UK.
“This is my favourite Wheatus song,” says Brown ahead of a poignant rendition of Valentine, which serves only to amplify the excitement for ‘that song’.
Cue those distinctive opening chords of Teenage Dirtbag, and with a singalong worthy of a venue a thousand times the size of The Boileroom (and the now obligatory selfie with the crowd), that’s that.
It’s a fitting end to the band’s 15th anniversary celebration here in Guildford. Actually, no, it’s the ONLY possible end.
Pictures by Sophie Garrett.
Originally published on Get Surrey, 13/10/15