Dalai Lama, Aldershot

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It doesn’t matter where you work as a journalist, each and every local news patch has its quirks responsible for all manner of weird and wonderful goings on – in my case, Aldershot.

This year, Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, paid Aldershot its second visit in just three years, ostensibly to open the town’s long-awaited Buddhist Community Centre.

Aldershot has long been home to a largely Buddhist Nepalese and Gurkha community, a relationship built on decades of militaristic cooperation. The town still houses the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, with thousands of its recuits having fought alongside British soldiers in conflict zones all around the world. They are a credit to Nepal, to the British Army, and to Aldershot.

But this relationship has not been without tension, most notably Joanna Lumley’s 2008 Gurkha Justice Campaign seeking greater settlement rights for ex-Gurkha soldiers who have served the Crown, her father having been a Gurkha himself. The result was the arrival of thousands of Gurkha families in Rushmoor borough, an influx many residents believe the borough was not adequately prepared for. I’m not going to tackle the complex ins and outs of this debate here though.

I can only stress it was an honour to cover the Dalai Lama’s visit to the EBB Stadium on Monday where he addressed thousands of supporters.

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Cambridge Military Hospital

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My job opens a lot of doors, in this instance, doors that first opened in the 1870s and shut permanently in the 1990s.

Grainger Plc is currently transforming a swathe of former military land in Aldershot into the vast 3,850-home ‘Wellesley’ development.

The development is named after the Duke of Cambridge, Arthur Wellesley, who has long been immortalised in Aldershot where a bronze statue of the duke astride his faithful horse Copenhagen watches over the town.

At the heart of the Wellesley development is the famous Cambridge Military Hospital, which opened in 1879 and finally closed in the mid-1990s.

It is as iconic a building as Aldershot will ever boast and canny as ever, Grainger are making the Cambridge a centrepiece of Wellesley – likely to be transformed into desirable flats and apartments.

On Monday, the Aldershot News & Mail was given a rare tour of the now dilapidated hospital ahead of its renovation. You can read my more formal take on that here (images courtesy of my friend and far superior photographer Sophie Garrett).

Below are a few of the pictures I took.

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#AshWednesday 2.0

Earlier this year, I considered myself pretty bloody lucky to land myself a ticket for Ash’s comeback show in London on February 18 (that’s Ash Wednesday, if you hadn’t already guessed).

Little did I expect, three months later, to spend my Wednesday morning in someone’s back garden (in the Surrey village of Ash) watching Ash perform their hits Girl From Mars and Shining Light in front of barely 30 people.

It was a suitably surreal experience. So rather than explain it all over again, here’s my write up for Get Surrey.

Ben Ottewell, The Boileroom

www.sophiegarrett.co.uk
www.sophiegarrett.co.uk

Few bands have risen to prominence with quite the same alacrity that propelled Gomez towards the top of the charts during the late 1990s.

The band’s debut album, Bring It On, was a potent statement; a heady gumbo of delta blues and fetid psychedelia that was as unexpected as it was triumphant.

Whippin’ Piccadilly and Get Myself Arrested became indie classics while album cuts Make No Sound, 78 Stone Wobble and Tijuana Lady cemented Gomez’s talent for blending a diverse array of influences yet maintaining coherence.

The album went platinum; so did its follow-up Liquid Skin. Such was its success, Bring It On bagged the band an unexpected Mercury Prize in 1998, besting the likes of Pulp, Massive Attack and The Verve.

Gomez even played the legendary Glastonbury Festival that year – twice in fact.

But for all the plaudits, Gomez were never destined to be a commercial juggernaut. The band retreated into ever darker, minimalist territory and slipped away from the limelight.

www.sophiegarrett.co.uk
www.sophiegarrett.co.uk

Thankfully, the legacy of the band’s early days lives on through guitarist and vocalist Ben Ottewell, whose rasping baritone came to characterise the band’s sound.

Bearded and bespectacled, Ottewell tears straight into Rattlebag – the title track from his latest 2014 album, from which he draws heavily throughout his hour-long set at The Boileroom on Tuesday (April 7).

“This is my first gig in Guildford,” muses Ottewell after a brooding airing of Patience And Rosaries, also from Rattlebag. “And not the last – hopefully,” he teases.

From the outset, the atmosphere inside The Boileroom crackles with anticipation and reverie; every song is breathtakingly observed without so much as a cough or murmur to break Ottewell’s spellbinding hold over his audience.

Even a quick retune after Free To Run (“the first song I ever wrote”) is met with hush.

“This is what happens if you leave your guitar hanging around in a house full of children,” he jests before So Slow, a “cack-handed effort”, says Ottewell, at a traditional blues song.

www.sophiegarrett.co.uk
www.sophiegarrett.co.uk

Gomez favourite Love Is Better Than A Warm Trombone sparks the first truly rowdy response from the audience, stripped back to just Ottewell’s acoustic guitar and harrowing vocal.

Shapes and Shadows, the title track from Ottewell’s first solo album, and Gomez number Hamoa Beach are equally well-received, but it is the run-in starting with Get Miles, the opening track from Bring It On, and Red Dress from Rattlebag that sees Ottewell exercise his chops.

Get Miles is a real sprawling treat, given a uptempo, bluesy makeover as Ottewell bellows out verse after acerbic verse before the song’s poignant refrain of “get miles away” reverberates serenely around The Boileroom in his distinctive burr.

And after a touching rendition of bittersweet love note Red Dress, time is almost up. “Turn the reverb up please,” he asks of the sound desk before gently strumming the first melodic strains of Tijuana Lady.

It’s a mesmerising finale, and a timely reminder the captivating qualities Ottewell and his cohorts harnessed long ago are still very much alive today.

James Chapple

Pictures by Sophie Garrett.

Originally published on Get Surrey, 09/04/15

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

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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

www.sophiegarrett.co.uk
www.sophiegarrett.co.uk

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.

www.sophiegarrett.co.uk
www.sophiegarrett.co.uk

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.

www.sophiegarrett.co.uk
www.sophiegarrett.co.uk

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

#AshWednesday

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Ash, Camden Barfly, London, 18/02/15.

I was lucky enough to bag a ticket to catch Ash’s comeback show at Camden Barfly in London on Wednesday night (February 18) – timed appropriately to coincide with actual Ash Wednesday, of course.

First thing on Wednesday morning, the band announced their new album Kablammo! and new single Cocoon, as well as a gig at Barfly that very night. Having seen the band a few times in the past, I jumped at the opportunity.

And as ever, they certainly didn’t disappoint. Opening with new song Fortune, which the band debuted in the US in October last year, it’s evident Kablammo! is set to more than live up to its name.

Fortune features a massive driving riff, not to mention frontman Tim Wheeler’s trademark guitar histrionics. Cocoon went down similarly well, as did two other new’uns aired for the very first time – Evil Kinevil and Shut Down.

As for older numbers, while Clones still evades me despite this being my fourth Ash gig, I was delighted to catch Wildsurf and Petrol again, Evil Eye for the very first time and, of course, the blistering Joy Kicks Darkness. All the old favourites were there too.

The full set ran:

Fortune / A Life Less Ordinary / Wildsurf / Goldfinger / Evil Eye / Evil Kinevil / Kung Fu / Cocoon / Oh Yeah / Shut Down / Shining Light / Orpheus / Girl From Mars / Joy Kicks Darkness / Petrol / Burn Baby Burn

The band have shot off back to New York to finish off Kablammo! which is due to be released in May. The band are coming back for a string of dates in June, including another show in London, this time at the Scala on June 11 – the day before my birthday. How could I refuse?