The Spiritual Dark Age – @tokillaking – album review

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It’s years since I posted up a music review on my blog but I’ve felt compelled to write about this new album from underrated band To Kill A King. Full disclosure: the lead singer Ralph is a family friend I’ve known since he was a teenager so I’ve always followed his band’s work with interest. The Spiritual Dark Age is To Kill A King’s third album and was three years in the making. I saw them live on Monday at intimate Newcastle venue The Cluny – they are still on tour as I write – go and see them if you get the chance, a really energetic and entertaining band to see live.

5 Star Review: The Spiritual Dark Age – To Kill A King

I’m not sure how the band would feel about my describing this as a concept album – but I think it is and the clue is in the album name, title track ‘The Spiritual Dark Age’. The theme running through this blistering 40 minutes of anthemic, lyrical folk rock is ‘the crack in everything’. The feel of this album reminds me a little of Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible (although it doesn’t have as much a sense of dread). Ralph’s lyrics articulate a generation that is set adrift spiritually, perhaps most clearly in the title track:

And so the good man said:
“Turns out God is dead.”
They worshipin’ signs instead
Faith from books they haven’t read
They’re angry all the time
Angry at some hole inside
Welcome to the Spiritual Dark Age

Oh, don’t lose your grip
Don’t get contemplative
About this space we live
Between first breath and then the grave
No need to be saved
Just some rules on how to behave
Welcome to the Spiritual Dark Age

I’m not alone and you’re not alone in this
There’s no map and we’re all just set adrift
Just children making pictures in the sky
Arguing about who’s wrong and who’s right

Aye, there’s the rub. Other tracks include the Unspeakable Crimes of Peter Popoff – about a televangelist, and Compassion is a German Word, which contains my favourite lyric: ‘compassion is my weapon of choice’. I made this little poster (my first piece of fan art!) to illustrate it (shamelessly nicking Banksy’s image from Palestine):

Compassion is my weapon of choice.jpg

There is hope to be found too, a sense of solidarity, a sense of finding out what really makes life worth living such as the insight of Good Old Days:

There’s time to waste
There’s a golden beam lights up their face
But you never stopped to appreciate it

So tell me now how it’s possible that a single day seems so
Beautiful and you never know them till they’re gone

This is a great album. Having received it on (cool purple) vinyl has made me listen to it ‘properly’ – as in all the way through without skipping. It’s a cliche but it really is all killer, no filler.

I can’t remember the last time I heard an album that so accurately pinpointed the current spiritual zeitgeist. Have a listen!

The album’s available on Spotify or direct from the band’s website here: http://www.tokillaking.co.uk/

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My vinyl copy of the album on my record player

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Blur live at Hyde Park 12 August 2012 – set list and review

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Purporting to possibly be their ‘last ever gig’ this was a special event for me to attend – to see Blur in Hyde Park to mark the end of what has been an incredible Olympics. After seeing Blur play at one of their reunion gigs in 2009 I just had to be there for the 2012 gig! Here I’ll include the set list and give my take on each track as it was performed. At the bottom of this post I have embedded a Spotify playlist I made of the set list (using tracks from the remastered 21 set released this year). A live recording of this gig can be purchased on iTunes.

Girls & boys

Perhaps an unsurprising choice for the first song but the right one, the crowd started pogo-ing straight away. It felt funny singing the line “love in the nineties, it’s paranoid”. The crowd was generally older than the usual gig crowd – most of us in our 30s and 40s!

London loves

Damon announced this saying that Blur loves London. Not one of their best songs but fitting for London 2012.

Tracy Jacks

Funny to move from a song about being a teenager to a song about being disillusioned with your job in your 40s. The line “it’s just so overrated” was sung with gusto – I think because it described a lot of people’s lives. A bit sad really!

Jubilee

A nice noisy one to continue. Noise was a bit of a problem – for the first 5 songs or so the sound just wasn’t quite right. The crowd kept chanting “turn it up” until I think we all realised that we couldn’t do much about it. I think the wind took some of the sound. It seemed to improve as the gig went on and the crowd settled.

Beetlebum

Away from the Parklife era stuff to some more downbeat tracks the gig really starts to get going.

Coffee & tv

Graham gets a big cheer as he sings this song of his with Damon on guitar. One of the best songs of the night. Segued perfectly into:

Out of time

This track featured an Iranian Oud player. Damon dedicated the song to athletes from countries who couldn’t compete in the Olympics this year.

Young and Lovely

Damon announced this as an old B-side that they hadn’t known what to do with. He said the song has made more sense since they’ve had children and dedicated the song to them. It’s a nice Beatles-y track. This was a good interlude.

Damon Albarn playing live with Blur at Hyde Park 2012Trimm trabb

I have to say, I don’t normally like Trimm Trabb but it sounded awesome!

Caramel

This was a song I didn’t remember at first and had to get my companion to identify! Perhaps an unusual choice but I felt they really shared a great selection of their back-catalogue.

Sunday Sunday

Damon asked ‘what day is it?’ we all went mad shouting “Sunday” knowing what was coming next! One of my all time favourites and it didn’t disappoint!

This set us up for a brilliant run of Blur classics:

Country house

Parklife

Phil Daniels came on stage to do his bit and very randomly Harry Enfield wandered around the stage dressed as a tea lady with a tea urn. It made no sense but raised a smile!

Here’s a fan’s video of this moment:

Colin Zeal

I was delighted another track from Modern life is rubbish was played. I think this threw a few people who clearly only have Blur’s Greatest Hits album! Good!

Popscene

This is a live favourite and always goes down well with the crowd. Absolute stomper!

Advert

Damon commented that we’d had two weeks of watching telly but with no adverts. An interesting observation.

Song 2

Woo hoo! This was dedicated to Mo Farah by Damon and the whole crowd chanted ‘Mo!’ whilst doing the mobot! A brilliant London 2012 moment!

No distance left to run

After the riot of Song 2 Blur changed the pace entirely with a very moving performance of Damon’s most personal song. There was almost a sacred hush as Damon bared his soul. This was the highlight of the gig for me.

Tender

The crowd took no persuading to start the chant of “oh my baby, oh my baby, oh why? Oh my!” Beautiful.

This is a low

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better they play what is a lot of people’s and my favourite song!

Encore:

Sing

This was an inspired choice for the come-back and a total surprise. Really stunning.

Under the Westway

Damon explained that this song was written in February for this precise moment – for the end of the Olympics. He dedicated the song to the Hyde Park crowd.

Commercial Break

Lots of la la las from the crowd!

And then a beautiful trilogy of anthems to close:

End of a century

For tomorrow

The universal

At the end Damon stared out at the crowd, looking rather stricken and sad and the boys disappeared – for the last time? I hope not!

Other reviews of the gig:

The Guardian

The NME

Metro

The Telegraph

Video clip on The Sun’s website

Financial Times

Clash Music

Primal Scream ‘Screamadelica’ tour – live at the Leeds O2 Academy – gig review

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Together as one

14 March 2011

Bobbie Gillespie singing

Scarily, this year is the 20th Anniversary of Primal Scream’s seminal album, Screamadelica. If my taxi driver is to be believed, Primal Scream are in a bit of bother with the tax man – hence this big tour of the UK. I don’t really care, I just got to go to one of the best gigs I’ve been to!

Part of me felt that it was hardly any time at all since the album came out. It was pleasing that the O2 looks almost identical to the old Town and Country Club that I went to when I was a student. The band came on, everyone looked pretty much like they always did – with the very notable exception of Mani (ex-Stone Roses and now playing bass for Primal Scream) who looked utterly knackered when they first came on. He was wearing a very ill advised stripey black and red roll neck and as he played I kept worrying that he might pass out. However, there was a lot of affection for the guy, at one part in the gig, the crowd started shouting ‘Mani, Mani, Mani!’ Did I imagine the hint of desperation in our voices, willing him to keep going?!

Still, the bass line was what it was all about last night. The bass was so heavy that I tried to record a couple of songs on my iphone using audioboo. Thinking it had worked, I tried to listen to them this morning but they didn’t work, it’s just a lot of fuzz!

The band burst on with Movin’ on up – a fast and messy version. They then played a selection of tracks from Screamadelica. Don’t Fight it, Feel it was a highlight with the crowd shouting ‘gonna get high till the day I die’. The more chill out ‘morning after’ tracks gave us a lazer show whilst Gillespie and some of the others disappeared – probably for a fag or something stronger. I expected my favourite song Loaded to be the highlight of the night. Although it was good, the climax of the Screamadelica part of the evening was in Come Together. This went on for about 15 minutes, the crowd going wild, people around me hugging strangers and jumping up and down. I haven’t moshed like that in years and it was a great feeling. It’s testament to the good atmosphere there that although I was stone cold sober (having given up alcohol for Lent) it was still euphoric. The final ‘ahhhhhh, together as one’, rang around the auditorium for a good few minutes.

This put the full stop on the Screamadelica set. The crowd was worked up and shouted and stomped for more. After a good wait – enough to have us all braying – Bobbie Gillespie ran back on stage and said ‘are you ready for some rock and roll?’ Crashing into Country Girl – the switch from 90s dance to rock and roll was amazing, the crowd again surging and jumping up and down, this time gleefully pushing into each other and stomping. This then segued into Jailbird with a grand finale of Rocks.

This all served to highlight the versatility of this band and just how dance music and rock music can come together in the perfect alchemical mix.

The 20th anniversary of Screamadelica deserves to be celebrated. If you get a chance to celebrate with the band, see if you can join the tour, and sing along: ‘ahhhh, together as one’!

Gig review: The Low Anthem, Smoke Fairies and Annie and the Beekeepers

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Wagon Week, TJ’s Woodhouse Club, Leeds

9th September 2010

I had the absolute pleasure last night of attending part of the Leeds Wagon Week mini-festival of folk music. Advertised acts were The Low Anthem – whose album was one of my favourites last year and Smoke Fairies – who I hadn’t heard of but on looking them up before the gig I was really looking forward to seeing as well.

On our arrival at TJ’s Woodhouse Club – a former working men’s club in Woodhouse (where I lived as a student), which smelt like a church hall and put one of the Smoke Fairies in mind of her grandma’s house – a different, unadvertised, band were playing a set. This was Annie and the Beekeepers and they were a really great surprise. Unfortunately we only caught the last bit of their set but I will now be adding them to my list of bands to watch.

I’ve never been to a gig with such a polite crowd before. A man brushed past my friend and then turned and said ‘I’m terribly sorry, are you alright?’ – we all laughed, it seemed so out of character considering the part of Leeds we were in. Then later on in the gig there was quite a lot of shushing. It was like being in the library. I took a photo on my iPhone of the Smoke Fairies and I could clearly hear the shutter noise and hastily had to put it on silent! Everyone was very much there to hear the music. This was nice but I think it meant it was a little bit of a staid atmosphere – at the beginning at least.

Smoke Fairies were incredible. My friend Lydia and I sat on the floor at the front and were just mesmerised by the skill of the guitarists (the two ‘front women’ who form the core of the band) and their beautiful vocal harmonies. Some of their music put me in mind of the first Verve album ‘Storm in Heaven’. Here’s the first track they performed. You can see here how quiet the crowd was by how clear the recording was on the rubbish iPhone camera!

They also have a really tall bloke on viola in the band who had an amazing old suit on, long hair, and a moustache. He looked like some kind of Dickens character.

I bought their new album after the gig, and I’ve been enjoying it, although it doesn’t have the ‘punch’ of their live performance.

Here’s one more of the videos I took last night:

See if you get what I mean about The Verve.

Speaking of eccentric looking blokes, I think that The Low Anthem are one of the most eccentric bands I’ve ever seen. The lead singer was wearing a deer stalker with most of his messy hair hanging over his eyes. He has a moustache. His band mate – who appears to mainly be the double bass player – has an even more ridiculous moustache and he’s very tall – to match his bass. Then there’s a guy with a big bushy beard who looks uncannily like the bloke with a beard from the film The Hangover. And finally there’s a pretty girl who is probably the most normal looking of the band members.

They don’t only look unusual, they play unusually as well. They kept swapping instruments. So much so that it would be impossible to say ‘that’s the drummer, that’s the lead singer, that’s the keyboard player’. This was the biggest revelation about seeing The Low Anthem play live. They are really virtuoso musicians – and I don’t think that quite comes across on the album.

They even had what appeared to be home-made instruments. And the bloke that looked like the guy in the Hangover plays the saw AND makes it sound good as well!

It’s impossible to do justice to the beauty of their set here. It was almost balletic they way they moved around the stage, swapping instruments. I particularly liked one song where they had two of them playing duelling clarinets.

They played quite a lot of music from an apparently new album and actually the tracks they played from ‘Oh My God’ didn’t really sound like they do on the album. This was just brilliant, however, and showed how very creative they are as a band and how musically daring.

They finished with an encore of ‘Charlie Darwin’ and then the lead singer said “that was a Sciency-Gospel song and now this one is a Gospelly-Gospel song” as the band proceeded to sing 4 part harmony with a guitar and a fiddle this beautiful song (which I recorded live, again, you can note how respectfully quiet the crowd was!):

The Low Anthem – Rest in the wake of the Lord – 9 Sept 2010 by Vahva

This will go down as one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. So glad that I spotted it was on, almost by accident in an Ents 24 email newsletter just this Tuesday!

Foy Vance performing Billie Jean live at Greenbelt 2009

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I intend to blog about what I learnt at Greenbelt this year, but to whet your appetite here is a video I filmed.
The incomparable Foy Vance, Greenbelt Big Top, 2009

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