‘Swell Maps’ @ Rough Trade East, London

Thursday 24 March 2022 – Shoreditch, London.

I’ve no idea when I first heard Swell Maps, given I didn’t start listening to punk until late 1978 and my exposure to new music as a mid-teen in Auckland with no older siblings was limited. I expect I didn’t hear them until after they broke up in 1980. I know I had their first single from 1977 ‘Read about Seymour’ on a cassette one of my workmates made me in 1981. I guess that was possibly the first time for me. It is a great song, as were the other singles.

They are an odd band, originating in Solihull in the English midlands the various members muddled around experimenting with music and sound in various duos and trios from the early 70s but didn’t form as Swell Maps until the punk explosion. Their early singles were short sharp bursts of jagged guitar driven punk, ‘Read about Seymour’ is only 1 minute 27 long. Resolutely DIY, they used cheap instruments in cheap studios and it shows in their early recordings, they all sound fabulous. I love that lo-fi over driven sound.

They released two LPs; the first in 1979 ‘A trip to Marineville’ and the more well known ‘Jane from Occupied Europe’ in 1980. Both were on the fledgling label Rough Trade. The band split soon after ‘Jane’ came out and most of the members went onto other musical projects, none were what you would call commercially successful. Both their LPs are more post-punk than what most would consider punk, with longer songs (Gunboats was over eight minutes), some instrumentals and lots of weird instrumentation and found sounds. Those records still sound good today.

They were not a band I followed, perhaps because they split before I started buying music. However, I suspect it’s more likely that by the time I first heard them their music had moved on from three chord DIY punk to something more challenging and interesting and I hadn’t moved on at all. I have been listening to them more over the last few years though and was interested enough to order bassist/guitarist/vocalist Jowe Head’s book about the band when it was released earlier in the year. A copy is waiting for me in my favourite bookshop, Printed Matter in Hastings, when I get back to St Leonards next month

As was normal in the early punk days most of the band members had made up names, Jowe Head, Epic Soundtracks, Nikki Sudden, Biggles Books, Phones Sportsman and Golden Cockrill. Sadly Nikki Sudden and Epic are no longer with us, both passing too young. After Swell Maps split Jowe Head was in an early line up of the Television Personalities.

I only saw that this interview with Jowe Head was on tonight at Rough Trade on Tuesday. As it was free and early in the evening and the weather was going to be nice I decided to get a ticket and make the walk to Rough Trade in Shoreditch after I finished work in Westminster. I need the exercise and the walk took an hour which was perfect, I’d earned my pint. I didn’t realise that after the interview and Q and A with Jowe there was going to be a live performance of Swell Maps songs by Jowe and friends. This was a massive bonus, and I was glad I had lumped the camera around with me. 

The band tonight comprised of – Jowe Head, guitar and vocals,
Dave Callahan of The Wolfhounds and Moonshake, guitar and vocals,
Luke Haines of The Auteurs, guitar and vocals,
Lucie Rejchrtová of Instant Flight, keyboards,
Jeff Bloom of Television Personalities, drums
Lee McFadden of Alternative TV, bass and vocals.

The band was joined for the songs ‘Harmony’ and ‘Cake Shop’ by Gina Birch from another seminal band, The Raincoats.

It was a lot of fun, the band were great, a little chaotic at times, the mix was really good, and it was a joy listening to songs I never ever expected to hear live.  Midget Submarines was probably my favourite song of the night, though Seymour and International Rescue were brilliant. The set ended with a five minute or so jam of what was apparently a Can track. Kinda the perfect way to end a set really.

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Dave Callahan, Jowe, Luke Haines. Lee McFadden

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Dave Callaghan singing ‘Let’s Build a car’ with Lucie Rejchrtová in the background. I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of Lucie from where I was standing. 

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Gina Birch.

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Lee McFadden and half of drummer Jeff Bloom.

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Luke Haines summing it up (he is a great performer)

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At one point when I was taking photos I realised I’d moved just out of sight of my back pack which contained work laptop, I could feel the person behind me getting closer to me, so I stepped back a bit and turned round and it was Thurston Moore, I realised my bag was going to be fine.

I’m really glad I went, it was a fun atmosphere, with what I’m guessing were loads of friends of the band giving them loads of love.

Wax Chattels @ Lock Tavern

Tuesday 26 June 2018 – Wax Chattels @ Camden Lock.

I am a massive fan of Auckland, by way of Dunedin, band Die! Die! Die!. I believe they are the band I have seen the most often over the 38 years I have been going to gigs. It is fortunate that they come to London pretty regularly. I have seen them three times since I have been here, only missing their last gig here as I was too sick to go.

Wax Chattels are a young Auckland band, also a three piece and clearly influenced by Die! Die! DieI, though with one massive difference; Wax Chattels have keyboards rather guitar as the lead instrument. They have been described as a “guitarless guitar band”, an apt, and frankly brilliant description for them.

Wax Chattels released an LP a few weeks ago and have come to London for a couple of release shows. The first was on Saturday night, however El and I were already at a gig, seeing the mighty My Bloody Valentine, a band I have always wanted to see, but have never had the chance to before. This was My Bloody Valentine’s first UK show in over five years, so I wasn’t going to miss that.

Fortunately there was a second gig, on a Tuesday night in Camden. It is not my favourite night to go out, but at least Camden is not a major pain to get too, and it would be a reasonably early one. Plus, it was free.

This was my third gig in six days, definitely a record for me.

I got to the Lock Tavern in Camden pretty early, far too early in fact and had to wait for most of an hour for the support band, Careers, to come on. They were Ok, a bit derivative, a bit London indie pop. Un-offensive but not spectacular, there were a couple of good tracks and I was entertained enough. The light was really poor, and the stage was between two doors to an open balcony holding a private party and the daylight just streamed in. None of my photos were any good sadly.

There was a thirty minute wait for Wax Chattels to get their gear ready and come on stage, it was still pretty light outside, but the light was slightly better. I wasn’t really banking on a full room, so didn’t get myself a spot for taking photos until it was too late. I grabbed a few shots from one side of the stage before moving to the other. I took the big camera and the 50mm lens, but even shooting wide open it was still a bit too dark for the low top-end ISO this old beast of a camera has.

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They were really good, great songs, and good performances, nice to see from a young band playing a free gig to a small, albeit full room. Highlights for me were Concrete, Shrinkage (the best Die Die Die song not written by Die Die Die) and In my mouth, a song I do not particularly like on the LP. It made more sense live.

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This is my favourite image from the night.

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I really enjoyed the show, and did buy the LP from the merch stand. Hopefully they will be back in London soon. I would definitely pay money to see them again. This is my favourite image from the night.

RIP The Kings Arms Tavern, may you rest loudly.

Kings Arms Tavern, Auckland. 2007-2009

The Kings Arms Tavern has been a key venue in the Auckland music scene since 1995. It opened soon after the equally (in)famous Gluepot closed to bands. Sadly the Kings Arms, the KA, closes its doors for the last time at the end of February 2018. Even sadder for me, I am not going to be there to farewell it, or attend any of the excellent farewell gigs

Auckland city has a long and terrible history in closing down music venues since I started going to shows in the late 70s. The Station Hotel, Rhumba Bar, Reverb Room, Windsor Castle, XS Cafe to name a few, all gone. Many to noise control, some to the violence that plagued the punk and alternative scene and some; like the KA to full fill the constant need for homes.  I have been to see many great bands at the KA  and many of the other now defunct venues.

After I bought my first DSLR in 2007 I was lucky to spend 2008 and 2009 shooting bands for a website. There was no such thing as a photo pit at the KA, but I love being in the crowd. I did wish they had better lighting though!

Here are some of my favourite images from some of those shows; in chronological order.

My favourite Auckland band for a while, amazing live and a brilliant first LP. Mint Chicks, Mar 2007.

The late great Jason Molina and the Magnolia Electric Company, August 2007.

I think this is my most used band photos. Shocking Pinks, support for The Clean. Jan 2008.

New Zealand and Flying Nun records finest. The Clean, Jan 2008.

Canadian’s Broken Social Scene, Feb 2008.

Still regularly played in my house, and performers at one of the KA farewell shows. Fabulous post-rockers, Jakob, Mar 2008.

Another brilliant post-rock band and great guys too, from Hamilton, Sora Shima. August 2008.

I arrived late and the crowd for Aussie metal-core band Parkway Drive was nuts. No way to get to the front, October 2008.

Ruby Suns, December 2008.

Cobra Kahn, supporting Florida punkers, The Bronx. December 2008.

Probably the most fun live band I have seen, loved seeing these guys! The DHDFDs, Jan 2009.

Equally brilliant, and with two amazing blazingly fast pop-punk LPs, the tragically late Jay Reatard toured with his band in Jan 2009.

Supported by the equally brilliant Los Angeleans No Age.

Californian duo, the Dodos toured in Jan 2009. Summer was always a great time for touring bands, and with the NZ dollar being so bad 10 years ago, visiting Auckland was quite popular for smaller bands from the US.

Ahead of the curve for wild loud rock and roll duos, the Hasselhof Experiment deafened in Feb 2009.

Out of retirement for a series of shows the wonderful Head Like a Hole, played a show in March 2009. Older and ‘wiser’ they remained fully clothed, unlike some crazy performances from the nineties.

Half of completely bonkers, cover band Masters of Metal are good friends of friends of mine. They played once or twice a year, performing two hour shows of classic metal covers. Talented musicianship and great stage presence made their shows hugely popular. Zak, March 2009.

Sleazeball punks The Dwarves visited our shores from Chicago in October 2009, including Nick Olivieri the bass player from the mighty Kyuss.

The Kings Arms was sold to developers who are bulldozing the building to build more flats. Fuck You!

The Telescopes with Flavor Crystals @ London Fields Brewhouse.

Thursday 22 September 2016 – London.

I really like the psychedelic, droney, shoegazey, not sure how you describe them, band, The Telescopes. They have existed in one form or the other since the late 1980s, though the singer Stepen Lawrie is now the only original member. I have seen them once before, about a year ago, and at the same venue.  So I kind of knew what to expect. Low light, high volume.

Until this morning I had not heard of, nor heard support act, Flavor Crystals, they are from Minneapolis and are in the UK, I am guessing, for the big Liverpool Psych Fest festival on this coming weekend.  One year I will make it up there as it looks to be a good show.

I really enjoyed Flavor Crystals, I noted bits of Yo La Tengo and Kinski in their sound, and those are nothing but good things in my book.

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They have released a split 12” single with The Telescopes and I suspect that will end up in my record collection fairly soon.

The Telescopes mainly played tracks off the last LP, ‘Hidden Field’s, though things tended to blur a bit, some of the sounds blending into another. I really like the LP, but they were a little uninspiring tonight. Maybe it was the small audience ?  I am not sure, but I was a bit disappointed by their set.

Photographically The Telescopes were a bit dull as well, Flavor Crystals were well lit, but The Telescopes had flat red lighting, I hate flat red lighting.  So, all the photos have been converted to black and white.

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Thurston Moore and Steve Noble @ Wildcard Brewery

January 21 2016 – Walthamstow.

Yep, Walthamstow. The town/suburb/area where I live. Inside a 10 minute walk from home, legendary alt-rock/noise guitarist Thurston Moore played a gig. It never happened in Green Bay – my home suburb in Auckland. Living in London is very cool sometimes.

Thurston Moore was the one of the guitarist / singer / songwriters in US alt-rock act Sonic Youth. I was a big fan of Sonic Youth and they sit easily in my top ten bands of all time list. Sonic Youth were highly influential, mashing a range of ‘rock’ based genres with no-wave/noise and free jazz anarchy into complex guitar based compositions, there was no-one who sounded anything like them. Most, if not all, the bands I like in 2016 would site Sonic Youth as an influence.

They split in 2011 after a 30 year career and Thurston Moore moved over to London. He has released a couple of pretty good LPs since. Last year to my surprise he performed a show at Wild Card Brewery, a very small independent brewer, (who make great beer!)  and are under 10 minutes walk from home. It sold out before we got tickets unfortunately, so when another show was announced El quickly grabbed us a couple of tickets.

El saw Thurston Moore with his band last summer in Hackney and really enjoyed it so we were both looking forward to this gig.

Tonight’s show was not a band performance, just Thurston and drummer Steve Noble. I know nothing about Steve Noble, just he is a drummer, a very very good drummer.

Due to me being a bit of an idiot about the timing we got there about half way through the set, the gig was a sell out and the small bar area was pretty full. I took my camera as I wanted to take a couple of photos but there was no way I could get close the front, so I snapped all I could of Thurston Moore – who is very tall and missed Steve Noble completely. I only got the occasional glimpse of his head!

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The set was interesting, sort of half free noise/jazzy sort of thing and half Sonic Youth influenced rock. They are both fabulous musicians and I would loved to have been able to see them up close, watching them play would have made the whole experience much better, good as it was.

Like any good TV chef, I managed to prepare a couple of images of Thurston Moore earlier. Much, much earlier, from when I first saw Sonic Youth play the Powerstation in Auckland in 1989. These are just crude photos taken of the prints from that show.

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UK Subs with The Ramonas @ Islington Academy.

Friday 11 December 2015 – London.

A few weeks ago my mate Steve bought us both tickets to go and see the UK Subs at the 02 Academy in Islington. I haven’t been to a punk gig in ages, the last band I saw that was even remotely punk was The Big Ups back in February last year, so I was quite looking forward to this one. I do not listen to much punk rock these days, my tastes have mellowed marginally, but I was a fan of the Subs a long time ago. I have never seen them – even though they have been around for nearly 40 years, and have released 25 albums. They are recording a 26th and final album at the moment. The first LP was called ‘Another kind of blues’ and the last will be called ‘Ziezo’. A smart person would be able to work out what the first letters of each of the 24 albums in between are.

This is likely to be the last gig I will go to this year, and it has been a busy gig-going end of the year as well. I don’t think I have been to this many shows in a row for years. Hopefully I will continue this in the new year, as it can be a lot of fun.

I was a little late meeting Steve at the pub and after a hurried beer we headed off to the venue, which is in the shopping mall near Angel Station.

I was not particularly excited to be shouted at by a security guard when I got too close to the area where customers were being ‘wanded’ with a metal detector. In fact I was not too happy bout being wanded either. The world is a pretty shitty place when you get searched and checked going into a punk rock show.

This was a really early gig, the support act The Ramonas were on soon after we walked in the door at 7:30, there was a reasonable sized crowd here to see the all female Ramones tribute act.

With all the classic Ramones moves and stances down pat and playing as fast and as hard as the originals they are a great act, and after a bit of warming up the front of the crowd were singing along to some of those great old Ramones songs.  I loved those first four albums, and seeing the Ramones in Auckland back in 1980 was a gig highlight!

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Sadly I had moved further back into the crowd when the pinhead came on stage with a Gabba Gabba Hey banner for Pinhead, probably my, and seemingly most of the others here favourite Ramones track.

I moved back up to a spot on the crowd control fence just before the Subs came on, so I could grab a couple of pictures of them as well.

There was not a huge break between the bands and the Subs were on mega early (the whole gig was over before 10:00, my sort of timing!) The original singer Charlie Harper and bass player Alvin Gibbs are in the band tonight, I think this line up has been steady for a while, but there has been many rotations through the years. Charlie always being a constant, and he is now 71 years old. The Stones look lightweights compared to the touring and recording schedule the Subs maintain. Charlie was on great form too.

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The set was a mix of classic old material from the late 70s and early 80s, mixed in with more recent tracks that I did not recognise. The main thing was they played Emotional Blackmail nice and early, so I was pretty happy. After that I dropped back further into the crowd, moving forward a couple of times later on for a quick jump up and down for New York State Police, Stranglehold and Party in Paris.

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There was a bit of a sing along for Warhead

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Jet has been the guitarist since 2008

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It was all over by 10:00, it was loud, it was sweaty and it was a heck of a lot of fun. I would definitely go and see them again. Thanks for a good night Steve, The Ramonas and The UK Subs.

For some weird reason WordPress wont let me centre the images, oh well !

Disappears @ 100 Club

Monday 23 November 2015 – Disappears gig @ 100 Club, London.

Another week and another concert, this is getting a bit habitual, and in a good way too. I have a ticket to one more gig this year, but suspect I won’t be taking photos at that one, I will have to see. A UK Subs gig may be more of an opportunity to jump up and down than take photos.

I have been looking forward to this gig. I have been a fan of Chicago band Disappears for a while and have a few of their albums, Era and Pre Language being particular favourites.

A year ago they were invited to perform at a David Bowie exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. They chose to play the entire Low album from start to finish. It is an interesting album to play for a band comprised of guitar, bass and drums as the second half of the album is pretty much entirely instrumental and most of that instrumentation is synthesiser based.

That concert was recorded and it has just been released on vinyl. Disappears were going to be playing the album live at the 100 Club in London, one of only a handful of release shows. Low is one of El and my favourite Bowie albums so I grabbed us both tickets as soon as they came out and here we are.

Low was recorded in France in 1977 and was the first of three albums loosely referred to as the Berlin Trilogy, recorded with Brian Eno and Tony Visconti. The second album Heroes, is one of my favourite Bowie releases and the third was Lodger. With its use of synthesisers and innovative recording techniques, Low is considered to be a highly influential album.

Monday night is not really gig night for me, fortunately the 100 Club is easy walking distance from work, so El and I met nearby, had dinner and a drink and then turned up not long after opening. I have never been to the 100 Club before, it is a true music institution and must be one of a very small number of venues that still exists in its original location. It has hosted so many famous bands and events from the Rolling Stones up to the most current. For me its claim to fame is the 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976 which hosted all the big names in punk rock and pretty much spawned an entire movement of copyist bands and wannabes after. It was one of those classic ‘everyone who was at the gig went off to form their own band’ moments.

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The venue is as cool as I thought it would be, just a lot bigger, not being a sell out show it was not too crowded and unpleasant either. The walls are all covered in framed images of performances and performers who have played the club and it is a veritable feast of amazing artists from all musical genres. Oh to have been a house photographer !

Disappears were supported by Demian Castellanos, who played a set of ambient, droney post rock. Normally a genre I am a massive fan of, but I wasn’t in the mood for it tonight. I wanted to hear a band play!

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I am trying to recall if Disappears played the album in the right order, I am pretty sure they did, but it was five days ago and it has been a busy week. The lighting was the friendliest of all the shows I have been to recently, but the G16 isn’t really up to it. I think I will be saving for a second hand Canon 5d Mk2 or mk3 now…

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They definitely started in the right order, with great versions of Speed of Life and Breaking Glass. I need to go back and listen to Bowie’s original Breaking Glass as I have started to think that Disappears version is better. Sacrilege in some quarters I suspect!

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I am guessing a number of the crowd were just there for Sound and Vision, the big track of the album, it was never one of my favourite Bowie tracks, but Disappears guitar led interpretation was very cool and the track that has been in my head ever since.

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It was the side two instrumental tracks where it got really interesting, hearing the synth track Warszawa played by a band with no synths was amazing. All the technology that has gone in to effects pedals over the last few years has allowed the guitar to make sounds that would not have been even imagined as possible back in 77. I wander what Brian Eno thinks ?

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My favourite track of the night was Weeping Wall, this seemed like a totally different beast played live and on guitars. The drums don’t feature that much on the Bowie track, but tonight the drums, and the drummer were simply amazing. An almost perfect end to the gig. There was one more song – Subterraneans, to be played. The last song on the album and a mellow come down to end the show.

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We both thought the show was magnificent. A wonderful interpretation of a genuinely seminal, inventive and classic album. Bringing guitars to a synth party was a brave, interesting and fabulous move. I particularly liked the bass players faux London Bowie accent !

The album was released digitally a few days ago and I had listened to it a couple of times prior to the show. I had decided to not buy it, it is a live cover album, with no original, must own material. However after seeing the performance and having such a good time (on a Monday as well !) I have decided to buy it after all. Partly to support the band, partly to support the small indie label, Sonic Cathedral, who brought the band over, but mainly as a memento of a great night out!

Spectres gig @ Power Lunches.

Wednesday 18 November 2015 – Spectres Gig @ Power Lunches, Dalston, London.

Bristol four piece Spectres, are definitely the band I have listened to most in the last year, especially since their debut LP ‘Dying’ arrived on my doorstep in February. Their music is pretty uncompromising, it is dense, it is dark and it is noisy, but if you dig deep enough you will find some lightness and pop touches – you would need a long handled spade though! To me they sound like the bastard off spring of two great bands – A place to bury strangers and early Swervedriver – with a little bit of Sonic Youth thrown in.

Spectres – Rattle the cage

As well as liking their music I like their attitude to the music business as well. In protest of the corporate take-over of Record Store Day, along with a great article from their record label, Sonic Cathedral, instead of releasing a new single on the day they are releasing one copy of that single a day, every day, for a year. It took me a long time to land a copy of the split single with Lorelle Meets the Obsolete, with each band covering the other. Spectres played ‘Stealed Scene’.

In a very amusing piece of publicity they also released their last single ‘Spectre’ the same day as the abomination from Sam Smith that is the theme song to the new James Bond movie, Spectre. Somehow, ‘by accident’ a version of this ended up on YouTube under Sam Smith’s name and their version was reviewed by numerous leading newspapers, as well as by numerous, bemused and unhappy Sam Smith fans on Youtube. Coup !! It is not a typical Spectres song though…

Though they are currently touring the UK I was not expecting them to be playing London any time soon, however, I discovered yesterday that they are playing tonight as support to ‘The Naturals’ under the pseudonym of ‘Buckfast Crimewave’. Though I have a bit of head cold I could not miss the opportunity so decided to go along.

The gig was at Power Lunches, a small bar in Dalston, not too far from home fortunately, given I was not feeling 100%. I liked Power Lunches, it was small, a bit dingy and dark, but they were playing what sounded like some really old school US punk rock on the PA, and sitting in the bar waiting for the first band to come on was quite enjoyable.

The bands play in a small basement, it was very dark, photography was going to suck… I didn’t stay for the opening act, not really my thing. As the music was so good up in the bar I went back there and waited for Spectres to go on.

Earlier today Rough Trade Records announced their top 100 albums of the year, it did not have Spectres on it. The band announced via Twitter that as no-one liked their old songs, they would only play new material at the show. Which they mostly did. The light was complete rubbish, there was someone shooting with a flash which I should have done, but didn’t. Next time I see them I will take a flash with me.

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From memory they played four new songs, with the last one definitely pushing a Sonic Youth vibe and was my favourite of the new tracks.

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This was not a tune up… This was using tuning as a sound effect !

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They played two old songs, I think Sink and Where Time Sleeps… It was a short but gloriously noisy set and I am looking forward to seeing them again, but as the headliner. I was very tempted to go and see them in Manchester on the following night as I have Fridays off of work, but it was too expensive to get there and working less days means getting paid less money!

A line from the song ‘In a box’ from their earlier Hunger EP seems an apt description about how I feel on occasion. “I want to catch a train to any where, I want to go on my own, come back on my own’.

I watched a couple of songs of the headliner “The Naturals’ but like the opening act, musically they were not my thing. If I was feeling better I would have stayed and watched their whole set, but I felt rubbish so I didn’t. Sorry The Naturals.