PJ Harvey

Bridgewater Hall, Manchester


In the cavernous, hi-tech, Bridgewater Hall, a stage that is more used to housing a full orchestra looks decidedly empty with only a piano and a few fairy-light covered amps resting in its centre. It is set for Polly Jean Harvey’s first UK performance of 2007, and as the hall slowly fills, the anticipation is palpable.

Peej walks on, a statuesque figure in a grand white dress, standing out stark in the now blacked-out venue and the first words out of one of the most influential artists of our time? “Oh my goodness, you’ve brought a horn!” One of the audience has indeed, packed a foghorn, and salutes Polly with it several times.

Harvey seems chipper and starts banging out classic ‘Mansized’ on a Gibson Explorer, but she quickly promises new material, an announcement which receives the kind of reception you’d expect. She heads for the piano and, admitting she’s a novice, sets a metronome going. It’s different, a delicate but passionate piano-led ballad with a high and clear vocal. She follows it with the similar ‘White Chalk’, a song about the Westcountry of her birth. Both tracks see a break from her usual gruff, gutsy vocals as she sets the natural potential of her voice free.

Despite the scale of the venue, with its wonderful acoustics and Polly’s intimate stage presence, we could be watching her in the corner of a cafe as banter is shared with individual audience members and plaudits are passed happily back and forth. During songs she may smoke with passion and guts, but between she has the affable demur of a ditzy Primary school teacher.

An idiosyncratic and kooky ‘Big Exit’ is followed by another newbie ‘The Mountain’. Tingling, angsty, it’s almost Jeff Buckley, but then she cuts back to that rawness for a blistering ‘Is This Desire?’ She leaves us pre-encore with this: “We’re growing old together. Do you think we’ll still be doing this when we’re 70?” PJ Harvey may have mellowed some, but she still has it and we wouldn’t be at all surprised if we’re dragging our ageing bodies back to the Bridgewater in 2030.

By Kenn Taylor


Liverpool Barfly 22nd August

It’s a big crowd tonight. Including, it seems, every musician in Liverpool. Even Your Fucking Correspondent only gets in by pleading Warp Records Immunity to the doorstaff.

We’re unhappy with Battles even before we get in though, because, so Barfly tells us, they’re so precious about their backline that tonight’s support act, legendary Liverpool Krautrock-heads Kling Klang, are relegated to the smaller half of the venue and a big chunk of the audience is forced to wait outside till the main act.

But of course, Battles are a band that already know they can make you wait. Yet, when they stroll on, there’s only a muted reaction from the crowd. Rarely appearing in publicity shots, many people are unsure whether these serious, muso-looking types are just the tech guys. Within a few minutes of them plugging in though, we’re hit by a wall of deep, thundering, echoing bass. A sound that makes even the chin-strokers take a sharp intake of breath.

The band appear without a care in the world, mooching about the stage with assured confidence and quiet concentration. Sweat dripping gently off their brows as the music does all the talking. The first few rows need little encouragement to get into the swing, and throw themselves into moves that sometimes resemble dancing.

Battles create a constant, complex warping mesh of sound. Low, rhythmic parts stomp deep into you, iced with a multitude of jabs and slashes which keep up the excitement. All this is largely created from a very simple combination of guitars, drums, keys and a box which is played with the flair that an orchestra is conducted.

As you’d expect from a band with jazz elements, they tease those familiar with the songs by extending and shifting the arrangements. As a dragged-out ‘Tonto’ is finally allowed to break off, the collected sweat flies from the drum kit and the hardcore in thee audience explode almost as much as the song before being let down again slowly.

At the end of the show, another patron tells the Stool Pigeon, “They’re good, but they only have one song they do ten different ways.” An astute observation perhaps, but it is a damn good song.

By Kenn Taylor

Serj Tankian

Liverpool Carling Academy

2nd September 2008.

Since leaving System of a Down on the indefinite back burner, Serj Tankian has continued to pursue his own personal, and very political, vision through his solo material, and here in Liverpool tonight, he cuts an imposing figure in the flesh.

Like with System, his solo songs are stirring, moody and musically multi-layered, and he builds his set into a rock opera filled with hope and despair. When working on this scale, it’s very easy to become overblown and empty, but his burning intensity and obvious sincerity keep things rooted on a personal level. It’s an intoxicating combination.

Despite the complexity of his songs musically, there’s usually no doubt what he’s singing about. His fast and tightly-controlled vocal delivery owes something to hip-hop, and his scatter-gun, but deep, lyrics are clear moral rage in a confused world, with ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’ being a classic example. His music manages to make your heart race and your mind reflect at the same time, a difficult combination to master.

Then, he inflicts a Beatles cover upon us, ‘Girl’. Oh no touring American bands, when will you learn? We get enough of that every day in Liverpool. At least it’s a fairly original choice and, actually, it really suits his voice. But when Serj then announces an ABBA cover, it seems like a step too far, but the theatrics and message of ‘Money Money Money’ suit him perfectly.

Towards the end of the set, he moves into more expansive and experimental angles. We’re not sure how well he wears it. Tankian is still at his best when running up and down crumbling emotional rollercoasters, and he sensibly ends like this with ‘Empty Walls’. Though we are still left a little wanting for one of those big System anthems, Tankian remains a great performer and one of the more powerful and original voices in metal and music.

By Kenn Taylor

Blood Red Shoes

Liverpool, Korova

Two skinny, pretty things. A small stage. Guitar and drums. Fuck. The sheer force of this Brighton duo is immediately apparent. It seems the clout of about 10 riff-spewing, fat rockers has become contained in these two kids and the audience are turned on to alert straightaway.

The frantic concentrated drumming of Steven Ansell and the slick raw power wielded in the single guitar of Laura-Mary Carter, taps into a rich vein of highly strung angst punk, epitomised by the dark, glossy drive of ‘You Bring Me Down’.

Their sound comes from the some new territory between the slow-burning, moody blues of The Duke Spirit and the scratchy art punk of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. They’re dynamic but hard and their combination of abrasive riffs and intense rhythms, melodic spikes and sweetly-pained vocals is as physically agitating as it is exciting on the ear.

The smallish crowd are attentive and energised rather than crazed and leaping  about, appearing to be locked in as much fervour and concentration as those on stage by the time of twisted ballad to getting it anyway, anyhow, ‘Try Harder’.

Nearing the finish, BRS bring some of the throng in on the act, punk-style audience participation or just saving money on band members? Either way, one, a very pissed guy called Peter, not only plays a mean cowbell, but shouts platitudes to the band throughout. For the final verdict, Peter puts it better than we ever could: “How fuckin’ boss were they? Come ‘eaaad!”

By Kenn Taylor

The Knife

London, Kentish Town Forum

The Swedish duo don big suits and orange face paint (All a bit Mighty Boosh) surround themselves with animation and send out waves of lush, lost keys and ocean-deep rhythm. Heartbeats is taken far away from adverts and Silent Shout takes us where we want to go, but it’s a mostly frustrating experience. They lack the thunder to really get a rave going and the ethereal tracks just get lost in the faded gold ceilings and the queue for the bar. At home The Knife can take you to strange, dark, places. Here we’re just standing in one.

By Kenn Taylor

Hot Club de Paris

Liverpool, Magnet

Hot Club de Paris are big. Not big in A Kooks way, but in an almost universal, they’re-actually-quite-good-aren’t-they sort of way. Their pop sensibility has won over ‘the kids’, and anyone with an ear for a tune, whilst mentioning the likes of The Minutemen has got them the interest of the musos. Having built a solid following, they’re now used to playing shows far bigger than Ping Pong @ Magnet, but they return for an intimate gig amongst their home crowd.

They begin with their now familiar filth-filled a cappella intro, then spin into ‘I Swung For Judas’ and we are straight into that Hot Club sound. And what a sound, Mersey pop seemingly fed through an over-tuned jet engine. A brilliant combination of the trio’s vocal inventiveness, Paul Rafferty’s bouncing bass base, and the chiming pinball guitar of Matthew Smith, who seems on a mission to ever increase his rate of Notes Per Second as the red walls of the rammed basement start to shine with sweat.

The by now very hot, Hot Club send out an appeal for beer and the DJ gallantly ventures through the heaving crowd, 6-pack in hand. Two cans land at the feet of The Fly but a call for Treasure Trove rights goes sadly unheeded. Suitably refreshed the trio thrust into ‘Snitches Get Stitches’ with renewed vigour. Ah, so it’s the Red Stripe that’s their secret.

A Hot Club show is pure entertainment in itself, but there’s plenty off stuff running about underneath those harmonies. It’s the intricacy of their songs and the subtlety of their lyrics that stops their technique from becoming tiring and gimmicky. As the set goes on they get louder-faster-harder and they work ever greater magic on the audience as they kick into long-titled paean to not shagging,

‘Sometimesitsbetternottostickbitsofeachotherineachother’. For all the odd time signatures and extra angles thrown in they clearly have real control and actually get more exciting when they slide from the tightness of their recorded sound, slipping sharply all over then slotting back into place in the blink of a strobe.

We finish, suitably, on ‘Shipwrecked’, how many of us feel having been on the receiving end of more nervous energy than you’d think possible. The only question that remains is where do HCdP go from here? The problem with hitting on a wonderfully original formula is whether you carry on doing it till people get bored or risk pushing beyond it and losing fans? Will they remain so entertaining in a few years? Who knows, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s these guys.

By Kenn Taylor


Liverpool University

31st October 2008

Suitably for Halloween night, the soundtrack from The Wicker Man is playing as Goldfrapp emerge, dressed as druids, save of course for Alison Goldfrapp herself, decked out in her usual extravagance.

On arrival, she asks the crowd to desist in any flash photography as it’s ‘distracting’. Most punters take her advice, but the odd flashgun still goes off and two songs in, we only get a few bars into ‘A&E’ before, apparently angered by the continued flash, Ms Goldfrapp storms off the stage in a huff.

First of all the audience are surprised, then amused, then angered. Who does she think she is? This isn’t a trendy London venue, this is Liverpool. The students’ union should have something in the corridor from the dressing room a la ‘This is Anfield’, to remind visiting artistes that in this town, anyone who dares rise themselves above the mulch and parade on stage must be prepared not to be a massive fucking diva and take whatever the audience throws at them.

As might be expected there’s a lot of dissent in the ranks, and bitter murmuring as people contemplate that a show they have just paid £22.50 plus booking fee to see might be over after less than two songs. A few minutes later though, one of the band emerges and announces that they’re going to come back on, but will leave again if there’s anymore flashing. As Alison et al return to the stage, the majority of sound coming from the audience isn’t relived cheering, but dissatisfied murmurs and booing. Goldfrapp have got to do a lot of work to win this crowd back.

Once they get back into the music though, things quickly start to look up and the murmurs die down as ‘U Never Know’ kicks in. We quickly fall for Goldfapp’s unique style, disco with depth, glam with a dark underbelly, and their great knack for shifting quickly from throbbing beats that make you grind to the most heart wrenching, delicate and multi-layered songs like ‘Little Bird’.

Of course, it’s Alison that is the visual focus, somewhere between disco diva and mad woman in the attic, dressed in flowing pink while the rest of her band stand around in white. It’s easy to see that this is a woman who NEEDS to be noticed, a crystal animal perched precariously on the edge of the shelf.

It ends on a loud one, ‘Train’. We tease and encore and, as the whole shebang ends of a thundering ‘Sex Machine’, the earlier incident is forgiven. Maybe you can be a diva in this town, but you’ve gotta have the glitterballs.

By Kenn Taylor

Multi-Purpose Chemical

Liverpool, Barfly

Start. BangBangBang, Arrgh, ChugnaChugnaChugna. German? Spanish? Popeye?? Beware The Fog! Dddle, Dddle, Dddle. “FUCK YOU”. Hop, Hop, SKIP! Jump Jump, Pinocchio! ‘I Would Walk (500 Miles)’. Eyeliner, now solooo. “DON’T YOU KNOW THAT YOU CANNOT BE FREE?” Grrraaahh. “Thou shall have a fishy on a little dishy…” (I am not making this up). “WAR Heuugh, good god…ABSOLUTLEY NOTHIN’!” Death/Warrr/DEATH/WARRR. Taptaptap, Woooh. Head butt camera, End…Fuck…YES!

By Kenn Taylor

Zombina and the Skeletones

@ Roadkill, Liverpool.

In the not too distant past the music scene in Liverpool was still dominated by half-arsed, I-wish-we-was-The La’s-la bands, content with playing mediocre scouse-rock and slapping each other on the back. Things are much better nowadays, but it took a lot of guts and glory to topple that mulleted hegemony and one of the bands leading the charge were Zombina and the Skeletones.  Bursting outta nowhere and splattering the city with fake blood, sweat and most importantly songs from another universe. A universe where life is like a fucked up, Nick Cave version of Scooby Doo with a  soundtrack of Punk, Ska, Surf-pop, Rockabilly and New wave. Unable to get booked they founded their own club night ‘Useless’, which for its duration became a haven for bands though varied in sound, were united in uniqueness and quality. One album, numerous line up changes and support slots with the likes of The Misfits and The Dammed later, they are playing there first gig for a while at Liverpool’s newish Roadkill venue; a car-wreck wonderland with squashed rodent dolls adorning the walls. Zombina and co meander on, all resplendent in their traditional teenager-on-trick-or-treat makeup, minus lead vocalist Zombina herself, dashing in a leopard-skin print thingy. They launch with ‘The Grave and Beyond’ a chunk of their standard, slasher-movie punk and proceed to thrash their way through a set filled with hard and bouncy little balls of twisted pop energy. Zombina flicks between her sweet/desperate American-tinged singing voice and her more down-to-earth Scouse patter as the collective sweat of the venue seems to drip down exclusively on the band. The crowd tonight however, remains by and large quite subdued beyond the barrier-ramming hardcore. They reveal a new song, ‘Your Girlfriends Head’, a fast little missile, perhaps showing a harder new direction, then along comes ‘Staci Stasis’ a class bit of punk-pop, Doo-wop, barbershop business. While ‘Angel Eyes’ is straight off the Grease soundtrack, if you crossed it with Carrie maybe. They crash down with what is perhaps their best song, the gem that is ‘Nobody Likes You When You Dead’, which for all its horror stylings shows they can have the odd touching moment.

In this scribbling I have had to slam a lot of words together to try and trap the phenomenon of Zombina, but ultimately these kinda cats and these kinds of sounds should be free of too much analysis, lest we ruin. Just don some plastic fangs and pogo, for tomorrow may be too late.

By Kenn Taylor


Liverpool, University

22nd October 2008

Elbow arrive on stage with instruments and arms held purposely aloft. This band have slowly been building a solid following since your correspondent was a lad, and now, finally vindicated with big prizes and movie-soundtrack deals, you could perhaps forgive them for a touch of smugness.

But there’s nonesuch from Guy Garvey et al, despite playing to an audience of over 1,500, the between song banter is akin to that in a smoky pub – If pubs were allowed to be smoky anymore.

In the midst of the songs themselves though, Elbow know that they’re here to put on a show, and ‘Starlings’ is a suitable opener, not only managing to be both funky and tingly, but enhanced by the presence of a scantly-clad backing group armed with day-glo maracas.

Elbow also know how to create an atmosphere, one of the most exhilarating The Fly has experienced for some time, and this without the need for pyrotechnic instrumentation. They create peaks and troughs that bring a sigh to your heart and a drill to your teeth. Elbow supply poetry and depth without the self-pity. Emotion is a dirty word these days, but they do it with dignity and pathos.

The lyrics are subtle and the music big but not overwhelming. The bass of Pete Turner puts meat on the bones of what they do, Guy’s voice, with both passion and range, more than carries the emotion, while the combined instrumentation of the rest of them keep the audience tense and pleased.

They promise to return to the stage for an encore providing we, the audience, sing them something ‘local’. The Fly’s suggestion is ‘The Trumpton Riots’ by Half Man Half Biscuit, but Elbow opt for ‘Hey Jude’. The audience are not backwards about coming forward in the singing request though, as might be expected, there’s a quick fast-forward to the ‘Na, Na, Na, Na, Na, Nas’, and they seem to go on forever. Still, it helps cement the audience together, which it already pretty much is despite its diversity from freshers to labourers that form the diverse Elbow fanbase.

After they return, ‘Some Riot’ brings us to new heights and we end spectacularly on ‘Scattered Black and Whites’. In the time Elbow have taken to get to this triumphant show at Liverpool University, thousands of next big things have crashed and burned. We’ve always said, it’s best to do it the slow way, and we think Elbow will still be giving us breathtaking music for many years to come.

By Kenn Taylor