The Small Fakers – Jagz, May 5th 2017

Picture the scene. The venue is intimate, the ale is flowing, the place is packed, and onto the stage walk four blokes with distinctly retro clothing and hairstyles.

Your mission – should you accept it – is to either dance or get the hell out of Dodge. So what do you do?

If the four blokes are Matt, Neil, Dean and Dan, and the band is The Small Fakers, then the choice is easy. Shut up and dance…

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As the UK’s one and only tribute to The Small Faces, the Fakers have built a huge following on the Mod scene and beyond since forming in 2007. Their stage presence is mighty, their attention to detail awesome, and every familiar song is quality.

I’ve known some of the guys for years from previous bands and other music events, and can vouch for their love of music, their drive, and their delight in getting so very close to the brilliance of probably the best british band of the late sixties. Yep – I said it. I know they were up against some other four-piece from Liverpool, but at a time when Beatlemania owed more to the Mararishi than to Merseyside, Steve Marriott and the boys delivered a mix of mod, soul, and psychedelia that stood them apart.

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Of course, all the favourites are there.  Sha-La La-La-Lee.  All Or Nothing.  Whatcha Gonna Do About It.  Lazy Sunday.  And obviously, Tin Soldier.

Amazingly, I’ve only seen the boys twice – earlier this year in London, and then again at Jagz, a cool little venue tailor-made for the boys and their sound. They put on an incredible show, and their audiences are mental – in the best possible way.

For those of us too young to have seen the Small Faces at their height, this is a trip into the kind of memories we all wish we had.

Make a point of catching them when they are near you. You’ll not regret it. For gig dates and more details, pop on over to http://www.smallfakers.co.uk/

Train / Magic Numbers / Natasha North – O2 London. 24 March 2015

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Picking my daughters’ favourite band? Easy. Whilst their friends are all boy-band crazy, or turning a little bit Emo, my girls are huge fans of US rockers Train. So when we saw that they were appearing at the O2, of course we were going to be there.

Now, I’m not usually a fan of huge arena gigs, preferring the smaller, more intimate venues where you can really engage with the artist. So I went with a mix of expectations: excited for the girls, looking forward to Train (they are very good) and apprehension that the size of the venue might dwarf the experience.

First on was a singer unknown to me. Natasha North hails from Beaconsfield, in the rural commuter belt just outside London. Her blend of acoustic guitar, synth strings, and rhythmic percussion filled the arena, and her haunting vocals really kicked the evening off well. She declared to the appreciative crowd that this was ‘the biggest gig of her life’ which made her performance all the better, as she really stepped up to the plate. Check her site out at http://www.natashanorth.com

Following on from Natasha were The Magic Numbers. Hailing from my own home town of Hanwell, I was looking forward to a blend of rock and pop delivered with style and setting us all up for the main event. So I was a little disappointed to find their set comprised a very formulaic blend of bland, uninspiring tunes delivered in a style that suggests they had watched ‘How To Play Rock On Stage #101’ before stepping out. I saw all the poses, all the wide-legged stances, and all the guitar-waving, but the music didn’t live up to the billing. They weren’t bad as such, just a bit… well, meh… Check out http://themagicnumbers.net

And so to Train.

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Formed in 1993 in Los Angeles, Train have consistently delivered well-crafted, catchy rock tunes for more than two decades. In Pat Monahan they have the secret ingredient every successful band needs – a charismatic frontman. Pat’s ability to engage fully with the audience, and his flawless delivery of their catalogue, set the arena alight. This I know to be true, because from the word go, my girls were utterly enthralled. yelling the lyrics to every song at the top of their voices, taking pictures and selfies, they were in heaven.

With songs such as Angel In Blue Jeans, Hey Soul Sister, Bruises, 50 Ways To Say Goodbye and Drops Of Jupiter, Train have identified their sound, and deliver their songs with confidence and energy. And it’s clear that they love what they do, an emotion that spills out to the enraptured audience.

I can pay them one more compliment, which for me shows their skill: They made a huge auditorium feel like a small club. You don’t get better than that.

Train‘s website is http://savemesanfrancisco.com – check it out for more information about my girls’ favourite band!

The Psychedelic Furs – London 2012

There’s something about going to a decent gig that gets your pulse racing and cheers the soul.

When the music is pounding, the crowd responds, and for a while, a short while, you’re taken on a journey to a place where your work worries, your family woes, your money troubles, whatever else ails you just doesn’t matter.

People have long believed that music has theraputic properties, and every time I hear a great tune, played brilliantly in an atmosphere that’s rocking, I believe it.

On a recent Thursday evening in July, I was one of a great many people packed into The Garage, in North London, to see one of the bands I grew up with as a child. The Psychedelic Furs may only be known to most people purely for the association that their 1981 hit Pretty In Pink has with the 1986 John Hughes movie of the same name, but those whose understanding starts and ends with Molly Ringwald and Duckie are missing the entire trick.

As a live act, The Furs are simply superb. More than 30 years may have passed since the Butler brothers first formed the band, but their enthusiasm, energy, and sheer love of the job is undiminished. The music is timeless, the musicianship flawless, and the performance peerless.

OK, let’s discuss the line-up.

My start point has to be my friend and fellow drummer, Paul Garisto. I’ve spoken with enough people that know Paul to understand that he’s acknowledged by all that know him as a real gentleman, a lovely guy, and one hell of a fine drummer. We’ve chatted online for a number of years and I have had the pleasure of seeing him play both here and when I was stateside in 2011. Both times, Paul went out of his way to give time to chat and catch up, and it was a pleasure to be able to spend time after the gig with him, chewing over drum stuff, talking about the vintage kit he’s just got, and the stuff he’s selling to make room. The Furs have a real gem in Paul, and it’s clear to see from their performances and the way they interact on stage, that they know and appreciate this all too well.

Next, I have to mention lead singer and founder-member, Richard Butler. Richard brings his full personality to lead vocals, with a voice oft-described as ‘nicotine-filled’ and certainly uniquely distinctive. To see Richard perform is to understand the heart of the man and to get inside the song. He’s an object lesson to any wannabe singer on how to engage with an audience and make them love you. I was able to cach up with Richard for a few minutes after last week’s gig, and once again, a genuine and lovely guy, clearly still very much in love with his music and the buzz on stage (even if I did point out, to his amusement, that he’d just succeeded in generating London’s oldest ‘mosh-pit’!)

Alongside Richard, at the start as now, is his brother Tim on bass, singing away and bringing bass excellence and so much more to the mix. I swear that at times, Tim was getting closer to the audience than Richard dared to! These two guys so obviously love their job, as well they should, and this infectious joy of performing hits the audience across both cheeks and dares them not to join in with the glee.

As well as the three above, we have the wonderful Mars Williams on sax, bringing his love of Rock and Jazz to create those distinct licks that fill and stir around both the guitar track, which is delivered with energy and passion by Richard Good, and the keyboard fills, which Amanda Kramer weaves in and out of the musical narrative with consumate skill and feeling.

I have to use the phrase Musical Narrative, even though it sounds pretentious, because that’s what The Furs do with their music. Every song tells a story, every lyric introduces a new character, and you cannot but be picked up and carried along with everyone around you.

And so to the gig.

I went with my younger brother, who I have watched from afar as he grew up as part of the mix-master generation, believing that turntables and segues are the key to good music. He’s been a DJ, he’s run karaoke clubs, he’s done a bit of singing, and now, at the age of nearly 40, he’s just joined his first ‘proper’ band. I took him along and advised him to watch and learn, my boy, just watch and learn. I admit to feeling a little like Yoda introducing the young Jedi student Skywalker to the ways of The Force. Suffice to say, he keeps telling everyone how great the night was, that he has a new favourite band, and it’ll be interesting to see what effect watching Richard’s delivery will have when next he performs with his band!

Musically, you won’t get much better than an evening with The Psychedelic Furs. There’s a freshness and a vibrancy about their music that makes me wonder how anybody could willingly listen to anyone called Beiber. There’s just no contest.

Whether they are playing tracks with a driving beat, such as Mr Jones or Into You Like A Train, or whether it’s a slower, more melodic track such as Heaven or All Of This & Nothing, the audience reaction is the same – utter entrancement. They sound like the end result every other live band is aiming for, and deservedly receive the adulation the audience pours out.

The Psychedelic Furs are back in the US now, but next time they are over this side of the pond (or next time you are over there, anywhere near a gig) be sure to grab your tickets and be there – you will certainly go away happy. I did, the Furs did, and so did everyone else who was there, on that special London night.

Thanks for a great one, guys!

Text copyright Paul Shrimpton, 2012.