Thursday 28 November 2019

Sophie Ellis-Bextor at The Sage

Sophie Ellis-Bextor
The Sage, Gateshead
25 November 2019
My fourth gig in four nights brought me back to The Sage, which is undoubtedly one of my favourite venues. It was to see an old favourite, too; Sophie Ellis-Bextor was back to extend her Song Diaries tour with some new dates to follow-up those from earlier in the year.

The gigs at Birmingham and Manchester back in June had been two highlights of a particularly busy year and I delighted to be able to catch one of the tour's latter dates.

Alice Jemima was in the supporting role again. I was disappointed to hear her solo tour, planned for Autumn, had been cancelled - but very pleased to her again. I have been playing her self-titled album a lot since I bought it from her in June.

Sophie could brighten up the dullest of nights. The tricky journey of a bus, two late trains (plus a cancellation) and a taxi was made all worthwhile as soon as she appeared on the stage.

The show was similar in style to those from earlier in tour, with the focused orchestral songs fronting the set list and the arrival of Sophie's band heralding a quick change of clothes and a second-half dancing party. It was just one top tune after another and everyone was up on their feet, dancing away.

The tour concluded this week and it leaves me wondering what will happen next. It seems unlikely we will see another tour with the orchestra, so presumably an album of brand new songs will be somewhere on the horizon. Whatever happens, we do hope The Sage will be on the tour schedule again next time around. This was a simply wonderful evening.



Adam Ant at the Middlesbrough Town Hall

Adam Ant
Middlesbrough Town Hall
It has been seven years since Adam Ant played at The Middlesbrough Empire. His overdue return brought him a coupled of hundred yards further into town to the recently refurbished Middlesbrough Town Hall.

The Town Hall has certainly hit the ground running since it reopened. UB40 and The Specials have both already been there and next year brings another big-hitter, in the shape of Paul Weller; a significant coup of the town.

However, the end of November belonged to Adam Ant, who tore through his Friend or Foe album before switching to prime cuts from his days with the Ants.

The hall was packed out and it was 'standing only' downstairs. The balcony and gallery areas looked full too. The downstairs mosh featured the usual selection of drunks, jostlers, arguers and, of course, people dressed in the style of Adam Ant from various areas.

The evening started with the album's title track; a vibrant song which set the pace for the whole evening. Goody Two Shoes lifted things to another level and Adam mde sure the non-album set was filled with one crowd-pleaser after another: Kings of the Wild Frontier, Ant Music, Prince Charming, Stand and Deliver and Dog Eat Dog were all present and correct, as were plenty of others too.

The pace didn't drop at any point during the evening. Adam has had well-documented problems over the years, but on stage he has clearly lost none of his ability to connect with an audience and to provide a full evening of high-octane entertainment.

This was another coup for the Middlesbrough Town Hall and one which was appreciated by the people of Teesside. All great fun!

Nancy and The Dolls at the 100 Club

Nancy and The Dolls
100 Club, London
23 November 2019
Another day, another basement gig.

The 100 Club on Oxford Street is one of the last great independent music venues in London. The closure of Soho's Borderline Club earlier this year, shortly after my first visit there, came as a shock and it paints a picture of a bleak future.

Despite a near-closure in 2010, the 100 Club is still going strong. It has an immense musical history, dating all the way back to 1942. The Rolling Stones played there twice in the 1980s and it was a key venue for the early gigs of the punk bands, including the Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Stranglers and The Clash.

There is now a great diversity in their gigs, but my inaugural visit to this famous basement was strongly connected to the glory punk days, as it featured the incredible Nancy and The Dolls (their new name).

Their playful individual names emphasise the fun factor: Nancy Doll, Jilly Idol, May Hem, Anna Key and Kitty Vacant all have fairly obvious punning connections to the punk greats.

I was unsure what to expect from the gig. The 100 Club definitely shows its punk-era roots; the toilets don't seem to have been updated since the late 1970s, the graffiti is covered only by more graffiti and the taps take turns in working. The basement stage is not raised very far off the floor and the room looks like it couldn't hold more than 200 people. There are a couple of tables and a few chairs on either side of the stage. I sat for the support act, which was Split Squad, featuring none other than Blondie's Clem Burke on drums.

Split Squad rocked out in fine style but it was only when Nancy and The Dolls took to the stage that the evening really blasted off - with everything 'turned up to eleven.' There was no longer any point remaining seated as people immediately crowded the stage. I made sure I was as close as possible to savour the experience; 'get up close and stay there.'

Led on by Jilly Idol and a famous bass riff, they took up their stage positions and launched into Psycho Killer, playing for a short time before Nancy Doll exploded onto the stage. We were then treated to a blistering, no-holds-barred set, running through the punk card and beyond.

Set list

Psycho Killer
Pretty Vacant
Sheena is a Punk Rocker/Blitzkrieg Bop
Hanging on the Telephone
Shitty Old Town
Swords of a Thousand Men
Holiday in Cambodia
Holidays in the Sun
California Über Alles
Hurry Up Harry
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't Have)
Teenage Kicks
Smells Like Teen Spirit
New Rose
(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)
Rock and Roll
Alternative Ulster
God Save the Queen
Common People
Times Like These


She Sells Sanctuary

There was no drop in the evening's uncompromising tempo and the audience was surprisingly friendly, which isn't to stand they weren't rocking out in full enjoyment of the gig. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and very impressive evening - even better than I thought it was going to be - and it brought to an end my punk experiences for 2019. I do, however, intend returning to the 100 Club before the year is out...




Sound of the Sirens at The Slaughtered Lamb

Sound of the Sirens
The Slaughtered Lamb, London
24 November 2019
I was fortunate indeed that my most recent expedition to London coincided with a Sound of the Sirens gig.

Having thoroughly enjoyed their appearance at Band in the Wall back in March I had been keen to see them again and the unexpected opportunity was a very pleasant surprise.

The Slaughtered Lamb, a relatively short walk from Farringdon Underground Station, holds very regular music evenings. This was my first time there. The bar was packed out; there were people smiling out onto the outside pavement. As usual with such venues, the gig area was elsewhere - specifically, down in the basement. I arrived early, as I normally do - especially at venues which are new to me.

Curiously, the chess theme from Band in the Wall continued here.

It is certainly an intimate venue, reminiscent of The Basement in York, only smaller. The loosely arranged chairs could be pulled as close to the stage as possible without actually being part of the show.

Sadie Horler provided very able support and was credited with making the tour bus chat more positive (although it is too hard to believe Abbe and Hannah are naturally negative people).

There was not too much of a gap before the Sound of the Sirens appeared. Time was spent chatting to the people either side of me. Everyone was friendly and there was a very relaxed atmosphere.

Abbe and Hannah certainly know how to put on a show. Their onstage connection is very strong. I still like the eye contact they give each other during the songs, which shows a deeper level of communication. 

The intensity of the songs is in stark contrast to the tuning-up chat, which shines a little light on the touring life, including tales of managing to lose everything and anything (there was an element of boasting when they drew attention to the fact they had two music stands) and also a frank admission of just how tough their wonderful fundraising effort for the London Marathon had been.

The set list showed some changes from the Manchester show and there was talk of a new album ‘possibly’ following in 2020. There are new tour dates for the new year too.

If the music industry was more like it was a few decades ago then a song as brilliant as Together Alone would be daily radio favourite and Sound of the Sirens would be on our TV screens on a very regular basis. As things stand, we, the audience, are the main beneficiaries of the circumstances because we are able to see Sound of the Sirens in the most intimate of venues.

With new music and new gigs already on the way, it is time for more people to experience the wonderful music of Sound of the Sirens.

Follow all the latest Sound of the Sirens news over at their official website.