Tag Archives: live gigs

Before they were famous…

Who’s the biggest artist you saw before they were famous, asked Drowned in Sound on Twitter the other day.

My answer would have to be Muse in 1999, I think. I saw them playing what was then called the New Tent on, if memory serves, the Friday morning of my first (and so far only) Glastonbury.

I try not to be negative in my blogs, only criticising elements in a thing that overall I do like. But, I suppose, some circumstances demand honesty. I didn’t like Muse then, and I don’t like them now. A cross between Nirvana, Radiohead and Queen sounds like a good idea on paper, but something about Muse repelled me and continues to do so. Matt Bellamy’s vibrato-laden voice sounds to me the way that I imagine Thom Yorke sounds to other people. Nails on a blackboard. And being a rather humourless young man (and I was young. Somehow I convinced my parents to let me go to Glastonbury aged 17), I found his wannabe-rock-star stage presence contemptible. The ambition just poured out of him. Urgh. So uncool.

My friends liked them, which just made it worse.

At the same festival, I also saw a similarly not-famous-yet Doves and, because no one else was on so early in the day, Toploader. For my American readers, who I assume escaped them, Toploader went on to release a ubiquitous and absolutely disgraceful cover of King Harvest’s Dancing in the Moonlight. Radio stations then took this ghastly, badly sung recording of what was already an annoyingly repetitive song and absolutely pounded it into the ground by playing it eleventy billion times in the next two years. Toploader remain, by some distance, the worst professional band I’ve ever seen live.

Here’s a crazy thing, though. Muse didn’t end up the biggest act who played the New Tent that year. At least if the poster is accurate,* there were bigger stars in the making at Glastonbury 1999 who I didn’t see. Briefly, the crown looked like it might go to David Gray, who sold five million copies of White Ladder in the UK and seven million worldwide over the first few years of the millennium. But longer term, the winner was Coldplay. I don’t need to tell you what they’ve gone to do. I’m not sure who I was watching while they were playing. If my memory is correct, 1999 was pre-Yellow, pre-Parachutes, so it’s probable I’d never heard any of their music.

I’ve hardly seen any band at a club or theatre gig who went on to great success. I’ve seen some good support bands who went nowhere, and some great ones who were already as big as they were ever going to be. But almost none who became famous. The closest might be Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro, who already seemed a band out of time. I’m pretty sure it was at the Garage at Highbury Corner, and unless I’m conflating two gigs (definitely a possibility!) they were supporting Echobelly. My college friend Ru had recently been drafted in on bass to replace Debbie Smith. I actually thought they were OK; certainly preferable to Matt Bellamy.

I’m unsure what this says about how frequently bands progress from support slots to mega stardom. It may simply be that the sorts of bands I go to see don’t get paired with young up-and-comers who have a genuine shot at a sustained career. Perhaps that’s because most of the musicians I go to see are at least my age if not older. People who go to gigs at the Barbican are not the sort of market that record companies and managers are trying to court for their hot new artists.

*The three artists I most wanted to see R.E.M., Elliott Smith and Sebadoh. The latter two both pulled out. Sigh. I did get to see Smith a couple of times before he died. Sebadoh I didn’t get to see until 2014.


Hi everyone.

One of my many projects at the moment is kicking the songs I’ve been working on into finished shape and determining the tracklisting for the album I’ve been trying to make over the last couple of years.

I’ve finally determined a pool of 15 songs, which I’m now trying to cut down to a final 10, with the others to be used as B-sides for singles or EP tracks. It’s a slow process for me as I’ve never done an actual physical release before, and want to take the time to get it right, and I was inspired to really take the time to do it well after seeing how well my friend James McKean’s record No Peace for the Wicked, came out: it’s brilliantly sequenced, and the artwork is also amazing.

In the meantime, I continue to write, and help Melanie and Yo bring their own projects (a second EP and a new album respectively) to completion.

On Sunday 21 August I’ll be playing solo at The Gladstone Arms in Borough, London (probably my favourite venue in the city, so I’m thrilled about finally doing a solo show there), and on Sunday 18 September I’ll be playing the Acoustic Folk Highway night at the Harrison near King’s Cross.

So there’s lots going on as ever. If you’re interested in hearing some of the completed mixes for the album, you can find them in the embedded Soundcloud player below:

Nada Surf live @ the Electric Ballroom, 11/04/16

Let’s start with the stop-press. I went to a gig last night and thought the sound was good.

Yes, that’s right. I have no complaints about the sound whatsoever. It was loud and full and rich and present, but controlled and not at all harsh, despite the volume. My ears were ringing only slightly immediately after the show last night, and not at all by this morning.

(Contrast that with the 48-hour tinnitus symphony I suffered through after last week’s Posies show at the 100 Club.)

Happily the show was every bit as good as the sound mix. Nada Surf’s thing – tightly written songs, vocal harmonies, guitars at that sweet spot halfway between jangly and crunchy – is not the most complicated thing in the world, but nonetheless they make it look so incredibly easy. All four members are very capable musicians. All of them pitch in with harmonies. Whatever tempo they’re played at, songs are dispatched without fuss, one after the other: bang, bang, bang. 18 songs in the set, four more in the encore, and a couple of acoustic singalongs by the merch table afterwards. Not much more than 90 minutes from first note to last. Guitarist Doug Gillard, formerly of Guided By Voices, added unshowy lead guitar and when he and Matthew Caws struck up the chiming harmonised intro of Jules & Jim, it was total Big Star-in-1972 jangle-pop heaven.

The set contained a good mix of material. New album You Know Who You Are is a bit of a grower, and a more than decent addition to their canon, but they didn’t go too hard after the new material, instead blending it in with established favourites. They opened with Cold to See Clear, but otherwise limited the new songs to the lovely Believe You’re Mine, Friend Hospital (repository of a couple of Caws’s dafter lyrics), Animal and Out of the Dark. Those aside, the songs were drawn more or less equally from Lucky, Let Go and The Weight is a Gift.

Personal highlights for me were Weightless (also a favourite of Mel’s), which saw the band switching impressively between its 12/8 main section and slow 4/4 passages, the aforementioned Believe You’re Mine and Jules & Jim, See These Bones (also a highlight of the Islington show – as Sara remarked to me, though, Caws is now telling the story of his visit to the Capucin monks’ ossuary in Rome as if he’s getting a bit tired of it), What Is Your Secret, Do It Again (cool bass riff, and massive cymbal-smashing awesomeness in the choruses) and Concrete Bed, essayed in the band’s trademark no-fuss style.

Nada Surf are a band I could see play many more times without getting bored. They’re so damn good at what they do, and I like what they do very much.

https://i0.wp.com/theupcoming.flmedialtd.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Nada-Surf-at-Electric-Ballroom-Filippo-LAstorina-The-Upcoming-4-1024x683.jpgMatthew Caws and Ira Elliot, onstage in London, 11/04/16 (photo: Filippo L’Astorina)