Spring has sprung, so your gently wobbly music industry inside-outsider has been springing up in the most unlikely of places in April for his ongoing quest to witness 365 live performances in 2022.
Our starting point is Birmingham, where our very own SOLAR EYES play their first ever live show at Muther’s Bar in Digbeth. Very good it is too – some Kasabianesque melodic thrustings, some Tarantino twangings and some lovely ELO shimmerings (this is Birmingham, after all) add to a compellingly mature musical mix. Raffish ’80s troubadour ENJOYABLE LISTENS is in support, but as he doesn’t start until 9.00pm that gives the Pandaman ample time to sample other local musical delights.
Rather handily, Digbeth seems to be some kind of gigging enclave, and just up the road we stumble into the O2 Institute, which is a lovely old municipal building hosting various venues within its elegant walls. Resisting the allure of Elvis / Nirvana tribute act Elvana soundchecking downstairs, in venue number 3 we find a cabal of young local bands causing a stir or three.
Armed with a singer who looks like an absolutely furious Harry Styles, PULSAR peddle the sort of lunging sound which makes their Joy Division cover sound like The Damned, and new song ‘TV Queen’ is grumpy and thunderous. Teenage flickers CAGE FIGHT are nicely grungey with a gothic bottom end who actually play a song they wrote yesterday. No wonder it’s called ‘Mania’. They play a slow one which is called ‘The Slow One’. We like their logic. Did the singer just say that her mum’s fave song is ‘F*** This Shit’? We think she did.
THE SKEME are skinny indie boys playing meaty ’80s indie with a scattering of covers of The Maccabees, Dirty Pretty Things and weirdly, The Libertines. We say ‘weirdly’ because they have a touch of The Rakes’ rakishness which means they are so skilled and sussed they almost make The Libertines sound better than The Libertines ever did in the first place. One last fleeting glimpse of the excellently-named WHEN TIGERS USED TO SMOKE, who seemingly make sweet-hearted pop with a summery non-dodgy Dodgy edge. Is that man really playing a Flying V rhythm guitar?? For a while, yes.
To Dalston! At the Shacklewell Arms Norwich’s Wild Paths Festival are presenting a farrago of East Anglian talents, including the indiepopping SUDS and the self-proclaimed “cowboy-showgaze’ combo THE GLITTER SHOP. You can take the band out of Bury St Edmunds…One star of the show is Norwich’s very own prima queen KITTY PERRIN. Deadpan and subtle with a three piece band, she wallows in an Americana-ish sound with some lovely sorrowful howling. Really lovely stuff. FFO Jerry Burns, Mazzy Star, as they say in the trade.
To somewhere else in Dalston! A short stroll to The Victoria down the road, where NEURO PLACID are presenting the most un-becalmed noisepop anarchy possible. For theirs is a world of rapping hysteria, gripping rooves and topless fun. There are power ballads and chaos, cowbells and saxophone – not at the same time, mind you. They sneak in a bit of ‘Hit Me Baby…’ and at one point someone hangs a sign around the urchin singer’s head saying ‘this band sucks’. They do, but in a great, groovy way.
To Stowmarket! Part of the Pandaman’s fun is the pre-gig tipple in the nearest pub. In the Queens, Head down the road from the John Peel Centre it’s all two pints of lager and a gastro burger and faded tour t- shirts warming up for Ian McNabb. “He was the singer in the Icicle Works in the ‘80s.” A faded man explains to the barmaid. “They weren’t very big.” But they WERE big in the musical sense. Embattled sons of the bouyant Liverpool scene, their ‘Love Is A Wonderful Colour’ and ‘Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)’ singles were giant tunes, windswept along by a sense of heroic bravado.
Even with an acoustic guitar, as he is tonight, Icicle Works frontman McNabb sounds epic of delivery, rich of voice. He plays the hits and a heap of Americana-tinged solo material, with frequent quips about visiting the merch stall to buy that solo material. There are singalongs, shouts outs and lots of desolated railroading gob iron, because McNabb is forever Neil young at heart. He plays two different cheery sets. Yes, he counts double.
To Hastings! We end with another wake, another broody awakening. This time we say farewell to old NME colleague Gavin Martin, who spent the latter part of his life on the South Coast creating poetry in motion. Some of that poetry had been put to music, which West Country outfit FAMILY JOOLS deliver in between eulogies in a sturdy psych-rock manner overlooking the sea. Later on they’ll be playing The Piper with the similarly louchely-rocking HEAVY SALAD. The consistently raffish ENJOYABLE LISTENS is here as well, proving that he is more of a gig beast than the Pandaman himself. And that’s saying something… PANDAMAN’S 2022 TOTAL: 94
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