Caught Live: The SoapGirls, The Old Courts Wigan, 26th August 2018

It’s been a trying time for South African punk rock chicks The SoapGirls of late, having gained many friends and followers with their relentless touring of the UK, they’ve also had to endure what appears to be a co-ordinated hate campaign. They’ve had their Facebook page deleted, forcing them to rebuild their following from scratch; the individual profiles of both girls (bassist Camille ‘Mille’ Debray and her guitarist sister Noemie, a.k.a. ‘Mie’) as well as their mother/manager Sam Debray have also been subject to various temporary bans. The reasons for this are unclear other than somebody definitely doesn’t like them, and are trying to stop them from performing. Indeed, days before this date, one planned gig in another city was pulled by the venue (which I shan’t identify, since I’ve no desire to give that place any mention!) and another scheduled for this week has also been cancelled. They’ve also had to fend off some quite outrageously untrue allegations, which could have been rectified by spending just five minutes talking to Mille, Mie or Sam.  Nonetheless they are made of sterner stuff than their ‘haters’ reckon with – hey, they’re from South Africa and they come tough there – but they are definitely doing something right, with some of their fans prepared to travel up and down the country (and into continental Europe, where they will play more dates this year) to see them play.

Their controversial image stems from their stage attire – sometimes little more than body paint, boots, and a few tattered remnants (!) and other times, leotards and hand-written slogans on their arms and legs. They’ve also been known to involve fans in bizarre challenges such as drinking their ‘voodoo’ cocktail of whatever alcoholic drinks were around at the time or ‘persuading’ fans to get on stage dressed in just outsized ‘nappies’ – these antics have been scaled back of late however, with the trio (they’re accompanied by a touring male drummer, currently Sam Ogden) preferring to focus on showcasing new material from a forthcoming album.  This performance in Wigan was actually a headline set for the venue’s Summer Festival, an all-day event featuring numerous bands from the North West and set in the Vault room at this former court house turned music and arts centre.

I caught some of the other bands on the bill, two of whom I made mental note of to look out for in future were stoner rock trio Shallow Waters. These guys badly want to be Kyuss, playing some trippy, out there jams featuring tons of overdriven guitar, and Neptune Valley who immediately preceded the SoapGirls. These were a four-piece who, despite some loud shirts,  had a neat line in pop-rock but still with enough guitar riffing and soloing to please an ageing headbanger like me.

By the time the SoapGirls themselves were due to come on it was already well past 11pm; fortunately it was a bank holiday the next day so I wasn’t worried about the night running too late and as I was driving, also not worried about getting home! Opening with ‘Society’s Rejects’, the title track from their last album, it was clear from the off that Mille in particular was in fiery mood. She was all over the stage, having a bit of room for once to throw shapes, she made the most of it. If she wasn’t storming all over the stage, she was bending backwards (she actually fell over twice doing that during this set, before reasoning that it’d be easier if she took off her high-heeled boots!) or doing the splits. All while still playing the bass! When she wasn’t performing gymnastics, she was delivering some from-the-heart speeches, slating politicians (‘none of them care about you or I’), and urging those present to make the most of their time (‘you have one life’) by not pandering to what others – be it work bosses, family members, whatever, expect from them. Mille is a driven, passionate performer at the best of times but on this night she seemed particularly angered.

Meanwhile over on the other mic guitarist Mie seems to have taken a more active role with lead vocal – she took lead vocals a lot more than I’d seen her do in the past, which did free Mille up more to perform her acrobatic routines. Her voice has got stronger in the past year too, she has always been the slightly more restrained voice of the two but now she’s roaring almost as much as her elder sister. Of course Mie’s guitar riffs are as heavy as ever, she sets that Ibanez Jem and Blackstar amp to destroy! All backed up by their redheaded sticksman from Stoke-on-Trent; Sam Ogden on the drums drives the sisters along splendidly, and you know how highly they regard their current drummer by the amount of stick they give him between songs! For all the seriousness of some of Mille’s speeches, she hasn’t lost her sense of humour, there were some quite ribald jibes aimed at Sam on the kit. All in jest, of course! The new songs they unveiled in April have become a big part of this set, in particular ‘My Development’. A song written after a confrontation with a neighbour back in South Africa, who objected to their playing practice at home, they’ve given said neighbour short lyrical shrift in this number! For ‘Bad Bitch’ they invited two people up on stage, only one took them up on it but another appeared, holding a sign stating ‘We Stand With The Soap Girls’. ‘Sam’s On Crack’ and of course, their party anthem for the downtrodden worker ‘Champagne Cocaine’, ended the set with the floor still bouncing despite the late hour.

As ever, both Mille and Mie were straight out afterwards, still in what passed for stage wear (!) to chat with the attendees, sell CDs and T-shirts, or just chat and have a picture taken. Mille, fiery and fierce on stage, reverted to a sweet and friendly figure once off, happily chatting to whoever was around, while Mie also mingled with fans and posed for pics, still with her headdress on! They know many faces from the gigs now, but have time for everyone. This aspect goes to show how much they put into their night, they must be tired after such an energetic set but still give their time to their fans. They have a few weeks left playing dates in continental Europe and some more in the UK after that, before returning to South Africa over the winter months. I hope to see them at least once more before they head home, and when they return in 2019 there should be a new album (their fourth) available. They are quite the live experience, and seeing them while they’re still playing small venues is recommended.

5 – Delightful

The SoapGirls on Facebook

Caught Live: Graham Bonnet Band, Tivoli Venue Buckley 24th August 2018

One number into this set and already the veteran rock shouter is having to improvise, giving us a short blast of ‘Only One Woman’ (a hit for  The Marbles, which Bonnet sang on) as well as rattling off a few gags and even explaining why there were carrots on the drum riser! (A comical reference to a long-ago but well-documented incident with Michael Schenker.) The reason for the hold-up was because drummer Mark Benquechea had managed to SNAP a cymbal stand while playing the opening song! There isn’t much Graham Bonnet hasn’t experienced in a long, and chequered career, so it didn’t take long for he and the band to get back into their stride once the drummer had finished his frantic repair work.

Graham Bonnet is currently enjoying an Indian Summer to his own career; having not long turned 70 he still has the mighty delivery which lured Ritchie Blackmore to hire him in Rainbow, of course it is Bonnet’s voice heard on their most enduring hit ‘Since You Been Gone’. This set took in a varied selection of songs ranging from his time in Rainbow, a few from his only album with Schenker (‘Assault Attack’), some Alcatrazz (new guitarist Kurt James has the nimblest of fingers, ideal for taking on Malmsteen solos);  even a couple of numbers from his time with Impelliteri (‘a band I was with for about a week!’, joked the singer) and of course his 1981 solo hit ‘Night Games’ which came early in the set. There weren’t too many new or even newish numbers played, it was more a set designed to please the punters than plug any new album.

Kurt James only joined up with the band earlier in the year, he gave a splendid performance on lead guitar. Whoever has that role has got a big job on his hands, considering the kind of axemen Bonnet has worked with in the past, but he handled it all with ease. That’s the only change to the line-up since last I saw them however; keyboardist Jimmy Waldo (from the Alcatrazz days) and of course bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone remain. The performance was high-octane, with many harder rocking numbers delivered in a set that must have lasted around 90 minutes. ‘Since You Been Gone’ came towards the end, and the band closed out with a faithfully-delivered ‘Lost In Hollywood’. There wasn’t an encore, but it was a full value set and took us close to midnight by the time it ended.

Bonnet still has the voice, and has a potent band to do justice to his back catalogue. He’s been back on the road for a few years now, and with him looking and sounding in such good shape long may his revival continue.

I didn’t see too much of the rest of the bill, so apologies to Gin Annie who I shall have to catch another time, but what I saw of Doomsday Outlaw was pretty good – an old-school old-time rock ‘n’ roll band who sound like they’re from the Deep South, but are in fact from Derby. They don’t bring much new to the party but are well worth checking out.

However the evening was all about that old fella with the impressive resume – I look forward to seeing Graham Bonnet and his band again soon.

4 – Deserving

 

Shout About It Live! (featuring REWS) at Constellations Liverpool

I only found out about this event days before it took place, thanks to a post from the Saturday headliners REWS. A live music event which also intended to showcase gig photography, it was actually a three-day event, with the Friday being a sort-of preview intended for those in the gig photo business to get together and ‘network’ while bands played. With my nights out currently rationed and having to be scheduled in advance, I made sure I was going to be there to see REWS play. The Saturday was an all-day event, with bands playing from midday through until 11pm, but as it turned out I was detained at home until around 7pm, meaning I couldn’t get to see much of the bill. As I was going primarily to see the rock duo though, it wasn’t a biggie.

I got to Constellations, a bar with a back room for live bands set in what looked like a former industrial unit in the Baltic Triangle area (close to Hangar 34, mentioned in the previous post) to find none other than Shauna and Collette of REWS posing by a mural nearby, taking selfies. They seemed happy to hear at least one person had come specifically to see them (!) though of course had it not been for their post, I’d not have known about this event anyway. It had little publicity, being independently-organised and after entering and watching one of the bands (a guitar-orientated, but indie-leaning quartet) I took in the exhibition that was also in place down the side of the hall. Showcasing some pretty good live gig photos from both big-time shows and smaller local gigs, this was an event aimed at giving budding gig snappers something to shoot without having to worry about photo passes. As such, I should have brought my own (ageing!) DSLR, but I’d gone as a gig punter rather than photographer so took the usual digital compact.

A short time later I got talking to one of these DSLR-toting snappers, who turned out to be the organiser of the event! A Wirral-based gig snapper called Georgia Flynn, she explained the reason for putting on this event and was happy to talk techie camera stuff to someone whom she probably didn’t realise was an old photo geek who used to develop E6* for a living (!) I did tell her I liked to take the odd snap for this blog, and she gave me her web URL where her work is displayed. After watching another band and observing the stream of DSLR users heading to the stage I took another look around before the penultimate band came on, who were Himalayas from Cardiff. I’ve seen these guys before when they supported Marmozets at the o2 Academy earlier in the year, so knew what to expect – indie-esque, but plenty of wallop from Jimmy Page lookalike guitarist Mike Griffiths and drummer  James Goulbourn. Frontman Joe Williams gave the snappers plenty to shoot when he took an off-stage walkabout near the end, as well as stand on the bass drum in true rock fashion!  A good live band worth seeing, though they were getting rather a muted reception from a floor filled with people aiming to get a good photo as much as take in a gig.

I was of course there for REWS who had come out onto the floor during Himalayas’ set, getting a bit of attention from a few punters who wanted pics with the girls. After a short period of setting up they kicked into life with a set of at least eleven songs, mostly drawn from their ‘Pyro’ album. Guitarist Shauna Tohill was a blur of energy on the stage, making the most of the (decently-sized) stage since she had most of it to herself!  Meanwhile Collette Williams set about hammering her way through this set with nifty rhythms, which had your correspondent attempting to drum along using the edge of the stage as a ‘snare’, particularly during ‘Miss You In The Dark’! Having seen the duo once before at the Shipping Forecast across town, I knew what to expect, but this was a particularly enjoyable performance. Though I made sure to get plenty of snaps on the digital compact, I had a good headbang as well! Once again, most present were there in a photography capacity and although they got a few cheers from the floor (particularly from this direction) it did feel more like an industry showcase, which I suppose it was!
Nevertheless it was a storming performance from Shauna and Collette, which must have pleased organiser Georgia who told me beforehand she’d booked them because  she particularly wanted a female act to close the evening. If you’re reading this, Georgia – I can think of a few others to recommend to you 😉

Hopefully this event will grow in the future, it deserves to become a fixture on Liverpool’s live scene especially since the focus (sorry!) is on giving people a chance to try their hand at photographing live music. There was another day devoted to acoustic acts on the Sunday, sadly real life intervened again so I couldn’t attend that day.

Presented below are some shots I took of REWS during their set, for the photo geeks I used an (older) Olympus SZ-16 compact at either 800 or 1600 ISO (the light was actually pretty good for such an event, and was a consistent colour – none of the dreaded ‘red light of death’ seen at so many gigs now!) and because of the black clothes worn by many of the acts, REWS included, I tend to under-expose by 1/3 to 2/3 stop so that the camera isn’t thrown by over-compensating, and burning out the faces of the performers.


For more about Shout About It please click this link:
Let’s Shout About It

To visit Georgia Flynn’s own photography website:
Georgia Flynn Creative

Finally, thanks to Georgia herself for my post-gig snap with Shauna and Collette!

Me with Shauna and Collette of REWS

Me with Shauna and Collette of REWS (pic: Georgia Flynn)

*E6: Slide/Transparency film, from 35mm through to 10″ x 8″ sheets!

Caught Live: Vintage Trouble, Hangar 34 Liverpool 14th August 2018

A band that’s been on my ‘keep meaning to see’ list for some time, LA rock/soul/bluesers Vintage Trouble squeezed this and a handful of other dates in between their UK festival appearances this summer.  Although several of my friends have raved about them in the past I’d never got around to seeing them until now, and I had only sketchy knowledge of their work. Enough to know that they were influenced greatly by soul / rhythm & blues artists from the 1960s as much as rock, so I was expecting an energetic performance.

Hangar 34 hasn’t been going for very long but has established itself already as a popular live venue; a decent-sized floor with a good stage, good sight lines wherever you are in the room and even a small balcony to the rear, its only slight disadvantage is the fact it is located in the south end of the city, in what’s now known as the Baltic Triangle ‘creative quarter’ where there have been many bars, cafes, live venues and creative business spring up in recent years. It is about a mile from the main railway stations, a little less to the main bus station so, a pretty decent walk if you were to use public transport. With that in mind, although fairly local I drove in, and found a spot mere yards from the door of this venue. I entered expecting to see a support band, what I got was a DJ on the stage complete with rig, playing a selection of Northern Soul favourites for the early arrivals. The place was not busy at all when I got there, allowing me to get fairly close to the stage, but as the DJ set wore in with us being treated to such classics as ‘The Snake’, it got steadily more busy.

The band eventually came on around 9pm, to a crowd I estimate of around 500 – not capacity but not too bad for a midweek gig. They all gathered around into a huddle prior to commencing the set, something like a football team would do, before kicking things off with ‘Run Like The River’. Snappy dressers to a man, the sheer energy and heat given off by this band soon had the guys’ nice clothes (particularly the polka-dot shirt of singer Ty Taylor) soaked in sweat! Coming over something like a modern-day James Brown if he had Led Zeppelin backing him, this was something to behold even for a first-timer like me.  Taylor is a master of the stage, getting this crowd eating from his hand from the first minute to the last, commanding the attention, and getting the most raucous response from any crowd I’ve seen in years. This 500-strong crowd sounded like 5000 at times!

He has some serious talent backing him too, from relentlessly pounding drummer Richard Danielson, to the trilby-hatted duo of guitarist Nalle Colt and bassist Rick Barrio Dill, through to ‘fifth Troublemaker’, touring keyboardist Brian London. They were given a spot midway through to play an instrumental while Taylor took a (deserved) breather, each member got a brief solo spot to show their respective ‘chops’.  All terrific players, though it’s that drummer who stood out for me. The band had some new tracks to showcase from an upcoming album which isn’t out yet, but to me all of it was new – having not cribbed their material beforehand!

Taylor was everywhere, all over the stage, pulling some impressive gymnastics and occasionally vaulting over the barrier to join us in the crowd. He even emulated Cormac Neeson at one point, getting everyone to crouch down around him in the same way that The Answer’s frontman sometimes does, and that’s not the only thing he did that reminded me of another frontman. Towards the end of the show he asked for and got, the crowd to introduce themselves to a nearby person they didn’t know. That’s something which has been tried by Shinedown’s Brent Smith on three occasions whenever I’ve seen them, but he couldn’t get many involved. The Vintage Trouble singer did the same thing with ease, as we all shook hands with a stranger near us! He even did one number from that balcony (it was unused on the night otherwise) and seemed to relish in the audience contact, even being crowdsurfed back to the stage! For their encore, he led the whole band off the stage at the conclusion of their last number and through the crowd to the merchandise stand at the back of the hall – one way of ensuring we all knew that was the final song!

Vintage Trouble said that they always enjoyed playing in Liverpool, since the city had that ‘grimy’ feel which made them feel at home – this venue hasn’t quite developed that ‘grime’ yet, being so new, but the part of town it’s in certainly fits that description, as it consists of former factories and warehouses. When they come around again next year, don’t hang about and get a ticket to see these fellas. For a high-energy feel-good show, they’re hard to beat.

4 – Deserving

Caught Live: The Kut, Liverpool Zanzibar 3rd August 2018

I really must take note of set times when going to these gigs! Having bounded through the city centre, I took no notice whatsoever of the times printed on the sheet of paper in front of the chap who took my fiver as I entered the Zanzibar, a long-established but somewhat tucked away venue in Liverpool. I got through the door to find the place pretty much deserted, save for bar staff and a certain Princess Maha. The Kut leader happily greeted me and chatted for a few moments, explaining that her bandmates (drummer Diana Bartmann and bassist Stella Vie) were off looking for some food. Had I thought this through more, I could have done the same thing. Oh well, there was plenty of time and so I supped a beer and waited, while Maha went off presumably to join her colleagues…

When Princess Maha came back she informed me that there’d been a bit of a mix-up with the booking. It turned out the venue manager had been off ill (he’d had spinal surgery!) The group had been unable to reach him, unaware of this and actually showed up at the venue hoping that this gig was still on! Because of this, no support acts were booked, and there had been little in the way of publicity for the gig. A bit of a contrast for Maha, Diana and Stella then, as they’d only played to a packed crowd in Blackpool the night before as part of the Rebellion punk rock festival! Nevertheless, the trio went ahead with their set, to a handful of people who’d heard about the date and showed.

When I saw The Kut earlier in the year supporting Marco Mendoza in Manchester they played with a different bassist; Stella Vie has now returned to the fold after she sat out those dates in order to focus on her finals towards her degree. Her bass was almost as prominent as Maha’s guitar all set, at least from my position practically on the stage with them!  For their (slightly profane!) number ‘Bad Man’ the position became actually on the stage; traditionally they ask at least one audience member up to join in ‘backing vocals’ and with there being so few there, your correspondent got the nod to join in! I’m not a musician, not even a vocalist, so I did try and give both Maha and Stella the room to do their thing but got to contribute the vocal on the chorus and the um, hook (play the track for yourself on Spotify, you’ll understand!)

They ran through a set mainly consisting of numbers from their full debut album ‘Valley of Thorns’; others included the catchy ‘I Want You Maniac’ and ‘Hollywood Rock ‘n’ Roll’ which not only featured some fine finger tappin’ lead guitar from Maha, but an additional guitarist in Jake Reverand Turl.  Despite the band saying they’d just treat it as a rehearsal, it was a full-on, full-energy set with everyone giving it 100 percent anyway. The few there were appreciative, it may have been a Bad News-esque turnout but they got a far better cheer from those who came than anything Vim Fuego and co managed!

Following the set they had plenty of time for a chat and pics, just about everyone there came away with something off the merch (I treated myself to a CD of the new album, plus a green vinyl single for a bargain £2!) The trio should be commended for coming and playing even though few showed, and even though they were not themselves certain they had a gig to play! The band are playing dates throughout August and well into autumn, so there’ll be more chances to catch this hard-working trio live. Recommended that you do so.

4 – Deserving

The Kut Facebook page