Our inside-out music industry outsider is still attempting to see 365 live acts this year. This is a man whose first ever gig was 40 years back watching The Higsons and The Farmer’s Boys at the Lyceum. This may end very, very badly. This is the Pandaman‘s diary…
We end the first month of 2022 squeezing in some fun at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket, where BBC Introducing Suffolk are hosting one of their hectically eclectic new band bills. Tonight’s careers from the pop covers of ex-X Factor worker Jon Guelas to the muscular ’80s thunderings of Sophie Mahon. In between lurks elegant Colchester five-piece SHE’S IN PARTIES, who overcome the hurdle of being the worst Bauhaus tribute band ever as they make a fragrant female-fronted sound which sounds a little bit like The Sundays gone shoegaze. The Sundaze, perhaps? No, no that simply isn’t ever going to work.
After the New Year new band rush and tumble there is a lull at the start of February, which is where the Independent Venue Week comes in, boosting the audiences and coffers of bars across the land by focusing attention on the live sector in a traditional dry period. Our IVW peak occurs at a packed out Norwich Arts Centre, forever one of the Pandaman’s favourite venues, where Norway’s POM POKO pogo their way through an exuberant headline set for Oddbox Promotions.
Our Scandi cliche-ometer decrees that we must describe them as a cross between The Wannadies and The Cardigans, which actually means they have a cute pop sensibility aligned to a panic-stricken Pixies thrust. Top marks to the arm-flailing ball of energy that is exquisitely-named singer Ragnhild Fangel, who appears to be wearing a bulletproof vest knitted by her nan, or as they say back home, her bestemor: half the crowd wants to give her a cuddle, the other wants to sign up to her aerobics classes. Anime fans may recall that the ‘Pom Poko’ film featured musical raccoons with surprisingly giant undercarriages, but rest assured that the Pom Poko band are most assuredly not balls.
For some of us, of course, every week of the year is Independent Venue Week, but even Pandaman cannot live by indierock alone. So as February unfolds and the big gigging guns start firing we head to Wembley Arena for JAMES BLUNT. Blunty! For a man famed for his tarty tweets his is a surprisingly sincere performance: ‘The Greatest’ is dedicated to his kids and the NHS; ‘You’re Beautiful’ (the ‘Lady In Red’ for the baby boomer generation), is dedicated to Rose, who works in his Chelsea pub; and ‘Monsters’ has dads wiping away the tears, and not just because it’s £7.50 for a pint of Arena lager.
The odd mellifluous nod to Jackson Browne aside, Blunty’s voice is always going to be seen as being more Art Brut than Art Garfunkel, but when he goes for a run around the audience or plinky-plonks his way through ‘Coz I Luv You’ by Slade you kinda can’t help but get tangled up in the paper trail of his eager Andrex puppy pop. “A crazily comfortable experience,” beams the man to our right, and he isn’t wrong. So long, Jimmy.
For those of you who suspect that we are using the likes of James Blunt arena gigs to merely bump up our band count you’d be right, but you’d also be terribly mistaken as these big shows are actually a false economy: Blunty has just the one support, a happily grizzled Gavin James, while two days later at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN dispense with support bands entirely and deploy Creation Records guru Alan McGee as a warm-up DJ. Can we count that?
By some tidy coincidence we bump into Noel Gallagher in the pub down the road and reminisce about the peak of his career, ie us getting him to number 52 in the charts with ‘Wibbling Rivalry’. It’s that kind of night, an evening of seeing beamingly friendly old faces in faded Joy Division t-shirts, and the Bunnymen are happy to play their part in the merrily morose party. Ian McCulloch is on excellent vocal form – no mean feat since earlier dates were afflicted by illness – as they charge through ‘The Cutter’, ‘Rescue’ and a pawful of knowing nods to Bowie and Lou.
It’s a re-scheduled 40th-anniversary show, but you can’t fault the power and the passion as Mac and Will Sargent march towards pensionable age. Well, we could tut about the absence of ‘The Back Of Love’, which is our favouritest ever Bunnymen track – and indeed we just have – but this is still an exhilarating celebration of sonic excellence.
Rather pleasingly / annoyingly, the following night down the road at the Electric Ballroom we find a band who would have been an ideal support for the Bunnymen. The fact that THE NIGHT CAFE are also from Liverpool is an obvious bonus, but they have a swagger and a sheen and some utterly lovely guitar flashes and flourishes which wouldn’t have shamed The Railway Children on Factory, or indeed any band on Zoo in the early ’80s. We’re going to see The Night Cafe again in Norwich again this week, we enjoyed them that much.
The first half of February ends for us at the 100 Club with yet more band counting consternation as THE KORGIS are supported by…well, they’re supported by THE KORGIS. Like the Bunnymen, they’re on the 40th anniversary circuit. Also, like the Bunnymen, they fail to play our favourite song, ‘Don’t Look Back’, which considering they perform two entire and entirely different sets is either an astonishing oversight or we’ve really upset them at some point in the past.
The past? Well, let us tell you about the past. Drop The Korgis into any casual conversation and blank expressions will prevail. Then mention ‘If I Had You’ and ‘Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime’ and those same faces will brighten up at the mellow memory of some of the softest pop hits of 1980, so soft they make Blunty sound like My Bloody Valentine. The Korgis have a new album out, called ‘Kartoon World’. They have some whacky kartoon-themed suits. They play some of that new album in their whacky suits. It sounds very nice and there are some tidy nods to their hoary ’70s past as Stackridge. But nothing sounds nicer than the hits or the near-hits like ‘If It’s Alright With You Baby’, because for the sweet old Korgis and the Korgis band’s faithful fans it’s a doggie dog world.
Pandaman’s total 2022 band count: 41