CPRW Playlist: Here's what Brett, Dan, Emma, Jack, Omar, Richard, Robyn and myself have been listening to this February.
Friday, 22 February 2019
Thursday, 21 February 2019
1. Bob Mould
So this is a weird one. Weird because Bob's influence started before I even heard any of his music.
I got my first guitar aged 11. I didn't take lessons. For the first couple of years the handful of people I knew who also 'played' guitar were into guitarist guitarists – Slash, Steve Vai, whoever was in the Red Hot Chili Peppers that week. I could hear they were all good musicians, but fuck… fret wanking bored me. I liked Green Day. I liked Nirvana. I liked songwriting. A friend of mine had one of those monthly guitar magazines – Total Guitar or something. I didn't care for them. But, this one issue had a piece on Hüsker Dü. I read it because Billie Joe Armstrong once said (something on the lines of), 'Hüsker Dü, the Replacements and weed were the 3 biggest influences on Green Day.' In this article it said Hüsker Dü sounded like a 4 piece even though there were 3 members in the band. It explained it was down to Bob's playing style. Hold a root note and move the other fingers around. Instead of going out and getting a Hüsker Dü album, I just started playing this way – no idea if it was right, or even similar, but it started to sound okay. I stuck with it and still have a hard time explaining songs to other people in the band.
When I finally heard something Bob played on, it still wasn't Hüsker Dü – 'Copper Blue' by Sugar instead. Now one of my all time favourite records. Bob's output during the 2010s has been absolutely fantastic in my opinion too.
2. John K Samson
You know how some bands hit upon something a little bit different, something maybe not unique – we all have to use F, C and G after all – but something exciting, a style unheard of before, Mogwai, Jawbreaker and Leatherface for example. They then spawn a whole host of copycat bands? It's by no means a bad thing.
I've been guilty of trying to write a Jawbreaker style song. A Hot Water Music/Iron Chic type chorus. With JKS the influence isn't trying to write in his vein. I simply couldn't. I couldn't do it justice. I'm not that good. He is THAT unique. JKS's influence is more about aiming to write the best words I can. Telling a story. Making the mundane sound beautiful, the everyday picturesque, the sad relatable (but not woe-is-me and self-pitying).
JKS is poetry. My brain is thinking of a million examples of how to highlight this. I'll leave it with 'Sun in an Empty Room.' My favourite lyric ever. Perfection.
3. Chewing On Tinfoil
The guys in Chewy create some of the best music I've ever heard. Each song is full of so much emotion and energy, with great songwriting and great musicianship. They could be massive but I love how they keep it DIY and stay low key.
One of the first punk bands I ever heard was All, on a game called Street Skater on the Playstation. I instantly fell in love with punk rock and have been a fan of both All and Descendents for 20 years now. Their bassist, Karl Alvarez, was one of the reasons I picked up bass instead of guitar and his playing style helped to shape my own.
I sort of wish that I could have put a really obscure band that I’d seen play at the Attik in Leicester years ago that had a really profound effect on me but honestly if it wasn’t for NOFX I’d probably not have discovered my love for punk and still been a long haired grunge kid. When I was 12, I bought a copy of Kerrang magazine that came with a SD called ‘Search and Destroy: The History of Punk’. Dinosaurs Will Die was the first track and that was it, completely hooked. Nirvana hoody in the bin and off with my paper round money to buy anything on Epitaph that I could find.
6. The Lawrence Arms
I first heard the Lawrence Arms when Jim from Our Souls showed me ‘The Corpses of Our Motivations’ about 15 years ago and they’ve been my favourite band pretty much ever since. Lyrically (especially Chris), I think they’re brilliant. Musically, I love all the subtle bass chords Brendan chucks in every now and again and Neil’s drums are always a perfect fit for the songs. I used to always try and chuck as many fills in as possible when I was playing but listening to how he played it showed me that you had to do what’s best for the songs not just yourself. Amazing band.
7. Screeching Weasel
I picked up Weaselmania years ago, a compilation of tunes from their records up to 'Teen Punks In Heat', and it blew my mind. That was that. Ever since I’ve been a full on Weaselhead. I love Ben Weasel’s ability to mix irreverence with sincerity lyrically whilst backing it all up with killer tunes. Honestly I think he's a genius, warts and all. I could never figure out if Jughead’s lead parts were so simple because he couldn’t play particularly well or because that was just the musical aesthetic they were going for. I don’t suppose it matters much when the results are so sweet. OK, the outputs been patchy since circa '96 but I defy anyone to challenge the assertion that LPs like 'My Brain Hurts' and 'How To Make Enemies and Irritate People' (with Mike Dirnt on bass) are anything other than fully fledged pop-punk masterpieces. I think the biggest thing I try to apply from Weasel to my own playing and writing is the KISS motto – Keep It Simple Stupid.
Around about when I was 19 or so I found myself on some long forgotten website and stumbled upon a band from Leicester, our hometown. I played the track on offer 'Proud To Fail' and couldn’t believe the explosion of snotty skate punk majesty spat out of my speakers. That something local could be so good astounded me and reset my expectations and ambitions as to what I might be able to do. I’d still be happy to be half as good. The song 'Another Five Days' on the Our Souls EP quotes 'Proud to Fail' in humble tribute and wholehearted unity with its sentiment. I still rate them as the single best band from Leicester I’ve heard and seen over the last 15 years or so. They've now long since broken up but their output is still kicking about the internet and is well worth loaning an ear to if you like foot-to-the-floor full throttle melodic punk rock.
I have been hooked on NOFX ever since I first heard them on a Punk-o-Rama CD when I was about 13. Learning to play their songs on guitar and bass helped me understand how a simple chord structure can turn into a completely different song with the use of octave chords and different rhythms. NOFX helped my guitar playing grow and definitely influence me still.
10. Morning Glory
When I first heard 'This Is No Time Ta Sleep' and 'The Suicide Singles' with the programmed drum machine, shitty sounding guitars, bass that sounded muffled, vocals that sounded like they were recorded in a wheelie bin, I thought 'this is great!'. The songs are upbeat and positive sounding but had negative soaring lyrics full of feeling. I came to learn it was just one guy who recorded it on an 8 track reel-to-reel recorder. This inspired me to get recording down my own tracks, with drums, bass, guitars and vocals. This is something I still do to this day and is a great way to flesh out ideas for songs. I can easily spend a whole afternoon getting engrossed in a song. Usually to the point where I can’t stand it anymore!
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Mere days after reviewing Gentlemen Prefer Blood's final release Weathered (which you can read here), I received an email from a PR company telling me about some of the band members’ new project California Hearse. Featuring Gentlemen Prefer Blood's former rhythm section, the duo put out a new six song self-titled EP in December – they really didn't hang around!
The first track on the EP is named Welcome Home. Straight away you can tell that this would be a much poppier outing compared to the duo's former band. As soon as the vocals come in, there's this great bouncy energy that gets me very engaged in the song. Welcome Home is packed full of hooks and, after a few times listening to the song, I keep finding something else that grabs my attention. The way that the band ramp up the energy on the final verse is outstanding, it really had me smiling whilst trying to sing along. The second song on the EP is titled Used To Be. It's a sad song about missing a departed loved one and remembering the insignificant things like how they'd always sit in the same place. Despite the sad message in the song, it's a catchy song that does a great job in grabbing the listener’s attention. Of course, the line that stands out the most is "where you used to be" which is sung with a great amount of sadness.
Best Worst is my favourite type of pop punk – fast paced guitars, rapid fire vocals and superb harmonies. After the solemn Used To Be, Best Worst gives the EP a real adrenaline boost. The energy in this song is overflowing as the band race through the first couple of verses and choruses leaving you breathless. This makes the moment when the song does slow down feel even more important as it builds towards that big ending with some glorious harmonies. The track is about wasting too much of your time on things you later realise are bad for you. Seriously, the harmonies at the end of the song – wow! After this massive energy boost the next song, Dissection, begins with the lyrics "so I get that you’re dead more inside than me." This is a slower tempo track that has more than a hint of new MXPX about it. The short, sharp way that the lyrics in the verse are delivered is a great contrast to the chorus that cries out to be sung along with. All together now "let's dissect our broken hearts, let's make maps of all our scars!"
The penultimate track is named Half Death. Opening with some buzzsaw guitars that bring the energy back up, the song is about being in the middle portion of your life and still living the same way that you did when you were younger. The saying "age is just a number" comes to mind when I think about this song. The fast paced vocals along with the simple drum beat give the song a fresh sound compared to the rest of the EP which is welcome. I'm really impressed with how California Hearse's lead singer can stick to this melody without the aid of a guitar to back him up. A great track, full of energy – lovely. The final song on the EP is named No Seoul. The track starts in a really slow and downbeat fashion as the band sing about living with depression and feeling beat up emotionally. There's a real dark and moody tone to the opening of the song as the band go through two verses before it builds towards the big ending with a superb chorus. It's a real solemn way to end what is a great debut EP.
The best way for me to describe this EP is by saying it's a modern take on Lookout records pop punk. I'm seriously impressed by the quality of the songwriting on the EP. It's pop punk but manages to feel varied and no two songs sound alike. To be able to release two excellent EP's in the same year shows some serious talent. I'm glad these guys are continuing to make music together following the end of their former band.
Stream and download California Hearse here: https://californiahearse.bandcamp.com/album/california-hearse
Like California Hearse here: https://www.facebook.com/californiahearse/
This review was written by Colin Clark.
Tuesday, 19 February 2019
Dead Words describe themselves as a dirty pop band. On New Year’s Day, the four piece from Texas released a new five track EP titled The Geek Shall Inherit. It first caught my eye thanks to the Star Wars inspired artwork and I looked forward to checking it out.
The EP's title track, The Geek Shall Inherit, kicks things off. The song is about what life would be like if geeks were to take over – it sounds like a good time, I love singing Basket Case at the top of my lungs. The song is pretty catchy despite not really having a chorus. I think this is due to the shortness of each line giving the sound a punchy quality but also not being especially hard hitting. This is just a lovely time that puts a smile on my face. Kingsley is up next and is about the band’s frustrations about not being able to be a full time touring band because of life's other responsibilities. There's a whiny angst in the song that really puts across the band’s frustration. Of course, it's very catchy and will cement itself in your head in no time at all. In what is basically pop punk tradition, it’s quite a sad song but musically remains upbeat.
Wallflower is a short one minute long track about being in the background and not being noticed. Dead Words do a great job in packing a lot in during the song but it never feels rushed. The subtle harmonies give the song a bigger feel and having two catchy verses make up for the track having no chorus. The penultimate song is the hard rocking geek anthem I Just Wanna Read. There's a hint of Weezer in the song with an easy-going rock 'n' roll style. It's about escapism and losing yourself in your books, your comics or even your record collection. Basically doing anything but talking to people. We've all been there. The final song on the EP is named City Streets and has a great 60s rock vibe. It's about walking through the streets with the one you love, wanting to take a chance and telling them how you feel. It's a nice positive way to finish the The Geek Shall Inherit. I particularly enjoyed the outro. Dead Words have clearly put thought into how to end the song, as well as the whole EP, as it finishes with some flourish.
The Geek Shall Inherit is a surprising EP. It wasn't what I was expecting at all and isn't a style of pop punk I'd usually seek out either but it's full of charm and you can't help but enjoy yourself whilst listening to it. It's short, sweet and leaves you smiling. What more could you want?
Stream and download The Geek Shall Inherit here: https://deadwordstx.bandcamp.com/album/the-geek-shall-inherit-2
Like Dead Words here: http://www.facebook.com/deadwordstx
This review was written by Colin Clark.
Monday, 18 February 2019
These Canadian pop punks are a band we've fallen completely in love with other the past few years – from first hearing Mid 20s Skateboarder on a Bandcamp compilation, listening to their self-titled debut endlessly and naming it my album of the year in 2016, travelling to Fest in Gainesville and seeing them live for the first time and being lucky enough to see them play their first ever UK show at my favourite place, the New Cross Inn. Pkew Pkew Pkew's sing-along pop punk just brings utter joy into my life. Emma and I are super excited to see them live twice in May supporting Spanish Love Songs. On March 1st Pkew Pkew Pkew will be releasing their second full length. Titled Optimal Lifestyles, it's being released on Big Scary Monster (UK) and Dine Alone Records (USA/Canada). My first feelings when I heard the news were ones of much excitement but then I got a bit worried, what if it's not as good as an album I put on such a high pedestal, could it lower my love of this band? I guess there was only one way to find out.
The first song on the fifteen track Optimal Lifestyles is names Still Hangin' Out After All These Years. Starting out with a bit of guitar wail and a pounding drum beat before those gang vocals – a big reason I fell in love with Pkew in the first place – get the song going properly. The song is definitely not as in your face as anything on the self-titled debut was but still packs a punch. I think we're seeing a more mature Pkew here. Topically it's pretty retrospective as lead singer Mike Warne sings of continuing to love spending time with your childhood friends and still doing the same silly things despite getting older. Up next is I Don't Matter At All. This is a garage/power pop song that actually has me thinking of The Strokes. Not something I have ever thought about a Pkew song before. Quite amazingly Pkew manage to retain their hooked filled sing-along vibes on the track despite the obvious change in style. The way in which Warne delivers the lines "’cause I can’t sit back and be lax anymore, I can’t just hope all my problems will go and solve themselves, or wait for somebody else, I’ve made my choice and I’ll see it through, you’re not a burden on me, but am I a burden on you?, there’s more I can do" is a highlight. It's a cool melody. The third track is named Point Break. The thing that caught my attention was the saxophone solo that happened midway through the song – not something that I'd ever have expected to hear in a Pkew song but it worked! Other than the saxophone this is the sound that I was really expecting from Optimal Lifestyles. Fast and explosive pop punk that you can't help but want to sing your heart out to. Point Break is actually a love song based on the 1991 film of the same name. Warne sings about the love that Keanu Reeves’ character, who's working as an undercover agent, has for his new girlfriend. The references might be lost on younger fans of the band (I only knew this because I read this article) but it's still a fun song regardless.
Up next is Drinkin' Days. It's about having the best time in your younger days drinking with your best friends and hoping things don't change as you get older. It's a more mature sounding Pkew drinking song than perhaps we are used to but it's still got all of those wonderful hooks. There's a retrospective feeling to the lyrics with the lines "if this is one long phase, we could go out in flames, but the nicotine stains on our hands will remind us of the times we had when we were drinking." 65 Nickels was the second single from Optimal Lifestyles. This is Pkew doing what Pkew do better than pretty much everyone. You'll be singing along to this chorus after one listen and by the end of the song it'll feel like a song that you have known for years. David Laino's simple drum beat starts the track and is quickly joined by an instantly recognisable guitar riff that will immediately let you know what you're listening to. In true Pkew fashion we are greeted with some big gang vocals on the chorus and things are finished up with some lovely harmonies. The song is about testing the boundaries of friendship and deciding that you need some space. This is followed up by The Polynesian, a big stand out on my first listen of Optimal Lifestyles. Taking inspiration of the band’s life on tour, it tells the tale of a night spent in a town in midwest America. I loved the storytelling style that Warne has written the song in, doing an incredible job of painting a picture in your mind with his lyrics. It's a slower track, which probably helps you with taking in all the detail in the lyrics. The repetitive use of the line "we got two room at The Polynesian" is a real ear worm and hooks you in so quickly. That's what really caught my attention on my first listen of the track.
Warne and Ryan McKinley share vocal duties on the seventh song, Skate 2. The multiple vocalists on tracks is something that I really loved on the band’s debut so I was pleased to hear it come back here. This song is basically the sequel to the ever so popular Mid 20s Skateboarder from the debut album. That song is a fast paced song about Pkew's love of skateboarding, despite getting older. Skate 2 slows things down as Warne and McKinley sing about having second thoughts about continuing to skateboard as you get into your 30s and the injuries mount up. I relate to this massively, but through playing football instead of skateboarding. I know how much it hurts after I play but I love it so much that I can't stop. The song starts in a kind of a downbeat manner but grows and grows until its finale. The big hook is the phrase "shred until you're dead, or until you break your wrist again" but the section of the song that really got me was the gang vocal cries of "I swear it’s over, why can’t this be over?, I swear it’s over, this is the last time." I really hope during live gigs they play Mid 20s Skateboarder, Bloodclot and then Skate 2 in a row. This is their pop punk skateboarder concept section. Passed Out was the lead single from the album and it's clear to see why. Starting out with just Warne's vocals and some guitar, you’re instantly invited to have a sing-along before the song really clicks into gear. When that gear clicks in, and the rest of the band come in, it's a great big shout-along that a Pkew crowd will adore. The song is about wanting to escape the boring to 9-5 lifestyle and feeling like you’re torturing yourself in some "pointless job that I hate"." The ninth track on the album is titled Not Getting Through To You. This isn't the shouty, bombastic pop punk style that we've come to expect from Pkew but instead more of a power pop song about the frustration of wanting to tell someone you're not alright but not being able to get people to notice. This is without a doubt one of the sadder songs I've heard Pkew play but the catchiness remains. The hook of "I'm not getting through to you" is perhaps a bit cathartic.
Mt. Alb is a classic Pkew partying and drinking anthem. It's fast, upbeat and features plenty of punchy vocals and some great trade offs between Warne and McKinley. It's about drinking underage and the lengths you'd go to for some booze, whether it's doing the old switcheroo in your parents alcohol cabinet, trying to use fake IDs or asking someone older than you to buy you some and then eventually getting it and getting hammered round a friend’s at a party. I find it a little hard to relate, having never drunk, but the story does sound incredibly like the activities old school friends would get up to. Despite struggling to relate it didn't stop me completely falling in love with this track. The real highlight was the song’s ending with the gang vocal shouts of "fucked up 'til I fuck off." It's kind of aggressive but it's a lot of fun to shout along to. The following song is title The Pit. The song continues the album’s overarching theme of getting older and realising that you can't do all the stupid things you did in your youth. The Pit tells a story of being invited out for a wild night but just wanting a quiet and early night. Lyrically the song put a huge smile on my face, particularly the line "I’m glad I didn’t go to The Pit with Jimmy and his friend who kind of looked like Vince." On Optimal Lifestyles, Pkew do an astounding jobs of writing songs that feel like a story. It makes each song that extra bit more personable. Everything's The Same was a huge surprise. Bassist Emmett O'Reilly puts down his guitar and leads the band on this piano lead track as well as providing a clean and boyish vocal that contrasts Warne's gruffer style perfectly. O'Reilly sings about growing older and wondering if it's too late to change your ways. The subtle and understated feel of the song really helps the song’s topic hit home and does a great job in making you ask yourself questions.
The thirteenth song on Optimal Lifestyles tackles the subject of wanting to run free and escape life's responsibilities. Titled I Wanna See A Wolf, this is an explosive sing-along pop punk song that, like everything Pkew do, will get quickly lodged in your head. Warne has this amazing skill in writing these super catchy songs that also sound like stories. This might be in part due to the help and friendship of The Hold Steady's Craig Finn who helped the band workshop the songs on this album. The imagery on the song is superb and you can really imagine what the music video of the song would be like. The penultimate track on the album is named Adult Party. What a fantastic song this is! The song talks about feeling out of place at a party. Particularly a party of people who are your age but have very different interests. The track plays like an internal monologue of Warne's thoughts whilst at the party – "I'll be nice and not say what I think." The song’s high point comes around the midway point as we get a huge moment where the whole band join forces and shout “rich kids, go fuck yourselves, if there’s some in the audience, go somewhere else, rich kids, go fuck yourselves." I cannot wait to hear this live, the crowd participation will be amazing. Finally we have Thirsty And Humble. Starting out sounding slightly like Billy Bragg's To Have And To Have Not, the song’s familiar sound pulls you in before the sound changes to a mid-tempo pop punk track where Pkew talk about their humble beginnings of drinking outside the venue because it's cheaper than paying for drinks inside. I love the openness and honesty in the song, with Pkew admitting this keeping them grounded and remaining at the same level as their devoted fan base. The gang vocals section towards the end of the track with perfect lyrics are perhaps my highlight of the whole album – “’cause all we want’s another, I got a stash in the alley, let’s go there, you got beers and I got wine, let’s drink them quick and get back inside, we got debts that we have to pay, we’ll take the money that we made, we’ll drink it all tonight, we lead thirsty, humble lives, could’ve stayed home and played video games, my life in Red Dead’s pretty great, I’ve got a bounty on my head, I guess it’s pretty much the same.” Thirsty And Humble is surely going to become Pkew's set closer for years to come.
When I first listened to Optimal Lifestyles I was a bit unsure whether or not I was going to enjoy it. But as it progressed, I loved it more and more. The album is a grower – but not after a few listens, after a few songs. And then when you listen to the opening songs again they grow on you as well. Pkew have really progressed and matured with their songwriting. Where the self titled album was about having fun, Optimal Lifestlyes is more about looking at your life and questioning your choices. The catchy, big sing-alongs remain but this is pop punk for grown-ups who aren't yet grown up. An early contender for album of the year for sure.
Pre-order Optimal Lifestyles here: https://pkewx3.bandcamp.com/album/optimal-lifestyles
Like Pkew Pkew Pkew here: https://www.facebook.com/PkewX3/
This review was written by Colin Clark.
Friday, 15 February 2019
Emma and I have been going to Be Sharp Promotions shows at the New Cross Inn since the summer of 2017. During that time we have fallen in love with the community that Be Sharp have played a big part in and consider it our home scene despite it being two hours away. During that time, like most regulars of the Be Sharp shows, we have become good friends with brothers Paul and Mike Smith. With the tenth anniversary celebrations of Be Sharp Promotions in full swing, I decided to have a chat with Paul and Mike to discuss the history of Be Sharp as well as trying to see what they've got in store for the future. Read on to see what a bunch of ultra professionals we are!
Colin: I'm ready whenever you chaps are.
Mike Smith: Got a pint, I'm good to go.
Colin: Handy, first question is for you from Fishlock – how did you get so cute and what's your favourite biscuit?
Mike: Oh Fishy, I will never reveal my secrets. I'm not big on biscuits, unless I can count a KitKat. Or a Club.
Paul Smith: I'm here by the way.
Colin: Ace, sorry Fishlock has no questions for you.
Colin: Question number one is how did you guys get into punk rock? … Mind blowingly original questions from the start!
Paul: Hearing Green Day on the radio in 1995. Then Offspring, Nofx, Rancid and deeper underground from there on.
Mike: Probably that copy of Americana that Paul left on our bedroom floor in 1999 (please clarify that we're brothers). And even then it was more the cover than the content. MySpace was where I discovered the more niche stuff off my own back.
Paul: We're not even related though...
Mike: That does explain a lot. My endless charm and inability to grow a beard finally explained.
Colin: Fun fact, Americana was the first punk album I ever owned. … What was the local punk scene like where you grew up?
Mike: Paul's answer but 10 years later.
Paul: 2000–2003 it was pretty strong, a lot of DIY shows, a lot of local ska and punk bands. Capdown, 5 Knuckle and the like all played 20 minutes or so away from our parents' house. But it's always been about 3 dBs Down.
Colin: You have told me many times about your love of 3 dBs Down.
Mike: It was massively centered around the Lion in Northfleet and the bands we saw and then started putting on, for me. Excluding the occasional My Chemical Romance at Wembley and Reel Big Fish at the Astoria, I grew up on the local bands and didn't really know any different.
Colin: Sounds like you grew up in a good scene. What made you guys start putting on your own shows?
Paul: Stupidity… and boredom. I put on my first show in 2005 because there was a lack of punk gigs at the Lion and I wanted to go to one.
Mike: It was more fun than school. Despite the trip to the cashpoint every few shows because we didn't make enough money to pay the venue or the bands… 10 years later, we can just use PayPal.
Colin: This was before Be Sharp was a thing?
Paul: Yeah, we didn't even have a promo name.
Colin: How long was it before Be Sharp started?
Paul: I put on local bands sporadically between 2005–2008 and then started properly when Mike muscled in in early 2009.
Mike: Originally as LSP before changing our name because of the Simpsons reference.
Paul: And LSP was an awful name…
Colin: Emma pointed out to me the other day that Be Sharp was a Simpsons reference.
Paul: Early flyers often featured Millhouse.
Mike: 'WE NEED A NAME THAT'S WITTY AT FIRST BUT THAT SEEMS LESS FUNNY EACH TIME YOU HEAR IT.'
Colin: So when Mike muscled in that's when Be Sharp started?
Mike: It's when it became a regular thing, with a bit more organisation behind it – an online presence and all that.
Paul: That's when we started seriously and put on bigger bands, touring bands.
Colin: Did you have any initial goals when you started out?
Mike: The same reason we started a band, to get into gigs for free.
Paul: To have fun, give our friends something to do, help touring bands out with a Kent date.
Mike: This way we just didn't need to learn songs.
Paul: And yeah free gigs.
Mike: Once we realised that we weren't completely awful at it, our goals changes a little. But essentially it's to help bands out and have a good time with our mates.
Colin: Who was the first big band you put on?
Paul: Jaya The Cat, somehow.
Mike: They did their own sound at that gig…Wait, they did their own sound the next time we put them on?
Paul: That was the second time, last minute to be fair. Stayed at mine, saved on sound and hotel prices. Had a week to promote that. Tuesday night 'n' all!
Mike: And smashed it!
Colin: How did you manage to book Jaya The Cat!?
Paul: Standard practice really. They were being booked by Ian Hidden Talent Bookings at the time, I sent a nice email pretending I knew what I was talking about.
Mike: Getting a contract for the first time was an experience.
Colin: When did you start putting on gigs in London?
Paul: LSP LDN
Mike: Originally it was Hassan from Triple Sundae (New EP out soon, check them out on all your usual social media channels) who was putting on London shows under the LSPLDN name.
Colin: I hear Triple Sundae are alright.
Mike: We did a few gigs at various venues before finally settling in a more permanent way at the New Cross Inn. As for the first London shows, Paul will be able to answer that with his rainman-like calendar brain.
Paul: I think it was when we were doing DIY monthly shows at various venues with The Pisdicables, The Provokers, My Third Leg and Vibe Dial Circus, around 2012. I think NXI was just the easiest venue to deal with, had backline and didn't charge us hire fee. Unlike Bird's Nest and Unicorn, we could charge entry at NXI, so it was easier to meet guarantees through sales, rather than hoping everyone sinks 10 pints for that bar percentage.
Colin: That leads wonderfully into my next question. Be Sharp has become synonymous with NXI, how did the relationship start?
Paul: The events team at the time used to book My Third Leg as local openers on ska shows, so we got to know them. Once Katy (Just Say Nay) was running the show, we used to co-promote in-house gigs, as well as DIY-ing our own. Our first big one was Authority Zero in 2013 (or 2014). That was a learning curve for sure.
Mike: When they moved the bar from the middle of the room to the side, it was obvious they wanted to be a venue and not just a pub. The faith that showed in the community and the scene was a big factor.
Colin: What's the process behind putting on a DIY gig?
Paul: It depends if there's fees to make or if everyone is happy with door split to be honest. We've always promoted our shows equally, but if one has no overheads and the next has the potential to lose a grand we haven't got, there's different processes:
Step One: Find a band.
Step Two: Find a venue.
Step Three: Promote hard
Step Four: ????
Step Five: (Absolutely no) profit
Steps one and two could be swapped, it varies.
Colin: Has the way you promote changed much over the past ten years?
Paul: Facebook rather than MySpace for online promo. Still do analogue flyering when we can, but I don't think much has changed, Mike?
Mike: Sorry, I was buying apple turnovers in Sainsburys.
Paul: Fifa after this?
Colin: I hope you bought some for everyone.
Paul: One thing that's never changed is we discuss gigs and figure out supports whilst playing Fifa – or Pro Evo back in 2010. It centres the mind when you ping one in from 30 yards.
Mike: And then my phone died. I'm back. We have the backing of the venue now, we can take bigger risks and make things happen that we couldn't before. That helps hugely. In terms of the promo, we do what we can but the bands and punters all do their bit. When we started, I got people to our gigs by saying 'yeah it's a fiver in, but they don't ID at the bar.' We don't do that now…
Paul: That's necessary when you start promoting at 16 and the only people you know are your school friends.
Colin: Do you guys have any rules about which bands you book?
Paul: We try and be apolitical, but obviously there's some bands we'd never touch. Also, ska bands get gigs by default.
Mike: Now that there are so many bands that play under the Be Sharp banner, the rules we would've had before are less strict. But yeah, general rule is no dickheads. Some may slip through but in the scene you kinda assume that people are wise and understand the scene and the ethics. Some don't, but it's hard to vet every member of every band.
Paul: I can't think of a time when we've said 'never booking them again'. And we must have booked 1000 bands by now.
Colin: There are plenty of bands that could be considered "Be Sharp bands." How does a band get that status?
Mike: Come to gigs (even the ones you don't play) and have a good time. Not forgetting the £50 per member deposit.
Paul: Call Me Malcolm, King Punch, The Pisdicables all came to us to get ska shows (and all come to shows they don't play). We do have our regular local support bands and it's mostly those that have been there from the beginning in some capacity. Or bribe us.
Mike: A lot of our regular bands are ones that we've known since way back. But new members to our little community are always welcome. The likes of Codename Colin are 'new' and I wouldn't say there are specific rules. Just be cool with it.
Colin: Do you ever argue about which bands you should put on?
Paul: Not too much. We both have our favourites and tend to think like, Burnt Tapes love Pkew Pkew Pkew, they get on that; Fastfade love No Fun At All, they get on that.
Mike: There are a few exceptions but for the most part it's mutual.
Colin: Be Sharp shows are renowned for their "everyone there is your best friend" vibe. Is this something that's happened organically or something you've worked hard at achieving?
Mike: Organically. We've never said person A or person B isn't allowed in. It's self policed and we're very lucky that the vast majority of people are lovely and we're lucky to call them mates.
Paul: It was always what we wanted and luckily it's just happened that way.
Mike: It's pretty much impossible to be angry while listening to ska anyway. You can't crowd kill to Reel Big Fish.
Colin: Be Sharp are also known for their all dayers, which I love. What do you think makes them so special?
Mike: It's like having a mini festival. At Chewing on Tinfoil last week there were a couple of [young] kids there to watch their parents play in a few of the opening bands, they were done by 6 before it filled up. They couldn't do that if it was a 'normal gig' so that's a nice touch.
Paul: That community vibe. Every time. And when there's so many good bands out there, we want to see them all. Seeing a couple of under 10s at Chewy was heartwarming. The next generation.
Colin: I love them, as it's a day hanging out with mates between watching great punk bands.
Mike: Where's the downside?
Colin: Sore feet.
Paul: By the time the headliners start, it's carnage. If we had 2 supports, people are barely warmed up.
Mike: And, the sore head after 10 hours of drinking for some of us. Or 48 hours if you're a certain someone that goes to see the same band the next day.
Paul: I did not feel good on the way to Bristol. Glad Fishlock only had 2 supports!
Colin: Do you guys have a proudest Be Sharp moment?
Mike: I have a lot, it's nice to know that something that started as a hobby means a lot to so many people.
Paul: Too easy to say Goldfinger I guess… watching Call Me Malcolm, The Pisdicables, King Punch, Codename Colin, etc. go from local openers to playing major festivals. Seeing 200 people go sick to a band that are playing because we like them will never get old.
Mike: Cramp In Your Leg Fest is up there, but that's more pride in our community as much as anything else. Watching Call Me Malcolm headline last time out was incredible and it got a little emotional. … Gotta point out that we don't manage these bands, they do it all themselves. We're just lucky that they carry on working with us when they can easily go somewhere else for a London gig.
Colin: Over the past few years, you seem to be getting most of the bigger American/Canadian bands coming to New Cross on their tours. How has this happened?
Paul: Reputation mainly. Agents tend to play it safe and/or have loyalties. They know they can trust us to promote, pay the bands and provide beer and hummus. The Hit The Switch and Cigar shows we got as we put on This Is A Standoff last year. Their front man, Steve, started a booking agency and approached us as he had a nice time.
Colin: Having such a good reputation must be something you're really proud of.
Mike: My whole time studying the music industry at uni was basically 'be a bastard to be successful' and that can get in the bin. Help your mates, help their mates and the rest is a bonus.
Colin: What have you got planned for the ten years of Be Sharp celebrations?
Mike: A quiet night in.
Paul: ALL OF THE GIGS! (See here) … Some old friends, some new, business as usual really, except we're older and possibly wiser. Only six years until Mike has been doing this half his life.
Mike: Fuck off.
Paul: 9 years for me.
Colin: And what's next after this year? Any plans to expand Be Sharp?
Mike: Well, I got sent an interesting email earlier.
Paul: I think we could potentially use bigger venues for certain gigs, but that wouldn't be a Be Sharp show. A 1000 capacity band in a 350 capacity spot is what we've always wanted. But also, watch this space…
Mike: We're not greedy. A good show is more important than a big one. If we can do both, happy days. But there's no rush.
Colin: That should be your tag line.
Mike: Maybe for the 20 year rebrand.
Colin: I'm all out of questions now, so I guess I should wrap this up. Anything else you'd like to add?
Mike: Shout out C-Rage for being our go to artwork guy. He redesigned our logo which you'll see on the new posters and it looks mint, as always.
Paul: Just a heartfelt thanks to everyone that comes to our gigs. We've spent the last 5 years constantly humbled that people come out with the same aim as us. To watch great bands and have fun.
Mike: We love you and Emma and all the CPRW crew. You guys rule and we're super grateful. 🙌
Paul: The bands are alright too.
Mike: And you suck at fantasy football. More than I do.
Colin: Guardiola ruined me yesterday. Bloody triple captain Sterling on the bench!
Mike: Ouchhhh. One of my other leagues had a guy who was 7th overall in the world. Nonsense.
Colin: Okay, I won't take up anymore of your Fifa time. Thanks for doing this interview and thanks for being Be Sharp and giving us somewhere we feel at home. CPRW 4 B#
Paul: ❤️ Thank you. ❤️
Mike: U da best.
Thursday, 14 February 2019
It’s not often that I find myself in a church. If I’m not there for a wedding then I’m probably there for a gig. I’ve been to Union Chapel, a fully functioning church and music venue in Islington, a couple of times for acoustic shows. The sound is incredible and the stained glass window backdrop is also pretty impressive – in my entirely atheist opinion. Gigs there are unlike anywhere else and so when Brian Fallon – frontman of my favourite band of all time, The Gaslight Anthem, and solo artist in his own right – announced that he would be doing an acoustic tour in the UK (and Europe) titled Songs From The Hymnal, I was quite keen. My parents, who I introduced to TGA years ago and are keen gig-goers themselves, were also keen so it was to be a lovely Prew family outing.
Union Chapel is a seated venue with a first-come-first-served system for its church pews. Mum insisted on queuing up outside half an hour or so before the doors opened to ensure we got a good spot. I’m not really used to queuing for shows anymore – you don’t have to at the NXI after all – but it wasn’t too cold and proved worthwhile when we got inside and claimed out seats. Another slightly different but lovely thing about gigs at Union Chapel is that they offer hot drinks. It felt like quite the novelty to have a mug (mug, not disposable cup!) of hot chocolate whilst waiting for the music to begin. I wouldn’t exchange my punk gigs in pubs for this sort of thing all the time but it was really nice as a one-off.
Joining Brian for all of the dates on the Songs From The Hymnal tour would be Craig Finn, most famously known as being the frontman and lyrical mastermind of American indie rock band The Hold Steady. The Hold Steady have always been a band that I’ve liked when I’ve listened to them but I’ve never properly got fully into any of their albums or developed the same love for them that I know many people, CPRW’s Richard included, have. That didn’t matter a great deal for Craig’s performance at Union Chapel since he mostly played songs from his solo releases anyway with just one Hold Steady track, Certain Songs. To succinctly describe Craig Finn’s music and performance style I would call him a ‘storyteller’ in the most literal sense. The opening song of his set, God In Chicago, was more of a spoken-word piece with some gentle guitar backing than your typical song. It was perhaps a little odd if you weren’t expecting it – and I wasn’t – but it certainly held my attention. I preferred the songs that had a bit more melody behind them but the storytelling element was definitely a great feature of his performance. I actually heard someone behind me say ‘They were just stories, not songs’ in a negative manner after Craig’s set, which I found quite amusing and ironic since they’d come to see Brian Fallon – king of storytelling both in his songs and live performance ramblings.
Obviously, I’ve probably said it a hundred times on this blog, I absolutely adore The Gaslight Anthem and owe them a hell of a lot for getting me into the music I am into today. Because of this, TGA songs will always be my favourite Brian Fallon output but, that said, I have really enjoyed his solo offerings since the band ceased to be as well. I was looking forward to hearing a mixture of all things Fallon played in such an intimate and special setting and I was certainly not disappointed, nor was anyone else! Just walking onto the stage, it was clear how loved this man was by the audience’s rapturous applause. It was a particularly loud reaction for the church setting but thankfully people went quiet when Brian picked up his acoustic guitar and opened with his first song, Long Drives from his first solo album Painkillers. There’s nothing worse than people talking during an acoustic act! As I expected, the setlist consisted of a combination of Brian’s more recent solo material and a handful of Gaslight songs. It was great to hear Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?, from the 2008 EP Señor & The Queen, get a rare outing as well as an old fan-favourite solo tune, The Blues, Mary. Brian told us how he often gets requests to play the latter live and the only reason he hadn’t until then was because he’d forgotten about it. I hadn’t – I’ve got it in my iTunes library from ten years ago! This being Brian Fallon, there was of course stories a’plenty in between songs, often ending without a conclusion because he forgot where he was going with a particular anecdote – it added some unintentional comedy to the evening. At TGA shows, I would sometimes find Brian’s rambling a little annoying but in this setting it added to the whole experience. Perhaps because it was just Brian and his guitar, it felt more natural. Actually it wasn’t just Brian and his guitar because for a couple of songs – I don’t recall which specifically – he swapped his guitar for an electric piano, as if things weren’t magical enough already. Hearing songs such as Smoke, Among Other Foolish Things and A Wonderful Life live again reminded me how good an album Painkillers was, while Etta James and See You On The Other Side prompt me that I really should listen to last year’s follow-up Sleepwalkers some more. My love for Brian Fallon never went away – I saw The Gaslight Anthem play The ’59 Sound (the best album of all time) in full less than a year ago – but after watching him at Union Chapel I have a new level of appreciation for everything that he does and has done for those that love his music, me included.
I love Brian Fallon and everything he does.
This gig review was written by Emma Prew.