There's always some joy to be had from bands who step outside the boringly defined guitar, bass and drums format in popular music and my trip out last night to see what this year's Brighton Live Festival had on offer proved that point conclusively.
For those of you not in the know, Brighton Live is an annual series of free events, staged by the otherwise fairly unremarkable local radio station JuiceFM. It cunningly coincides with Freshers' Week for the 2 local universities [Sussex & Brighton] to help poor unsuspecting students new to the fleshpots of the city [I still hate that term when applied to our little ol' town] relieve themselves of the big fat grants and parental supplements before theyget the chance to sit back and think about budgeting and spending them on something more appropriate like their rent, course books and some real food.
Despite the target audience being so young and generally unsophisticated and indiscriminate in most things musical, the quality of gigs in this festival is, generally, surprisingly good - I base this judgement on 3 years experience dipping into its delights. Brighton's huge music scene is of very high quality anyway and bands with a bit of nous know that a bit of unpaid exposure at this juncture will pay dividends later.
My main purpose for picking this particular evening for a scout round was to catch the latest stage in the progress of my friends The Adventurists aka Sam Walker and Daniel Clark. Information about exact programme times for gigs in Brighton Live is pretty poor - I suppose this is the pay-off for a free fest - they can't afford much promotion - so it's quite difficult to find out who's appearing where and at what time.
I knew my boys were due to appear at The Latest Music Bar [more popularly known as Joogleberry's] in Manchester Street, Kemp Town, sometime after 9, so once I found out more precise information by enquiry at the bar itself, I calculated I had an hour to spare and headed off around to Audio in the next street to see if anything was happening there.
Happily I found a gig in progress there and arrived part way through a set by a band I discovered to be called Amy's Ghost . They have an interesting line up consisting of Amy [not her ghost, I believe], a Wendy James [Transvision Vamp]-like vocalist with a very interesting voice who occasionally supplements it using a megaphone[!], a cello and a red-hot drummer. [I've often commented that a good drummer is essential to a new band if they are to get noticed - it will cover up a lot of teething troubles and leave the audient with a good impression of a developing new act. This is certainly true for Amy's Ghost. Not that they displayed too many faults - my main criticisms would largely stem from the inadequacies of lower priced technology found at these events] ].
I anticipated them using the generally useless epithets 'alternative', 'indy' and 'other' in their MySpace description of themselves, but on checking was pleased to find they had ditched at least 2 of these - using the more enigmatic and intriguing "FeminineTribal Leftfield Indie!"
So what did they sound like? Well - they were clearly of the generation very much influenced by the likes of Radiohead, but for my more jaded pallet I was pleased to find them to be of a more edgy ilk, somewhat heavier, maybe in the style of Evanescence, and was delighted particularly by their closing quite experimental number which drifted perilously close to the Space Rock beloved by followers of Hawkwind.
This was an extremely pleasing start to the evening. In fact, if I'd had to go home at this juncture I should have felt I'd had a good night out and discovered a great new band. I eagerly look forward to their upcoming single release in the hope that it's well produced and gives at least a flavour of the ambience I felt part of at this great performance.
Cate is a singer-songwriter with a fine voice and varied vocal techniques which add a lot of character to her fairly ordinary songs. I felt that the whole performance could have been more interesting musically if she chose to move away from the standard girl with guitar folk club format. The addition of some good sympathetic instrumentalists with suitable arrangements and some work on Cate's personal stage image would elevate her material to a much higher plane. As things stand, I'm sorry to say Cate's appeal remains largely in one area of the entertainment scene - one in which I'm not particularly interested.
Then we came to The Adventurists. I have been following this band for the best part of a year now and had the pleasure of witnessing the evolution of a fine musical and comedic combination. Sam Walker - well known for his work with Turning Green and Shona Foster among an ever-increasing litany of other ventures and projects, and Dan Clark - best known to me as frontman to the splendid one-off outfit known as The Hat, have come together as The Adventurists and pooled their multifarious skills to produce an entertainment rarely paralled in pop music. It's taken this long to actually bare the fruit that the sapling of a year ago indicated that it was capable of sporting.
Their moniker is extremely apt as they clearly have only a skeletal plan for each performance and allow the quirks and accidents [and there are many!] of the occasion direct the progress of the show. They gel [variously like Laurel and Hardy, Ant & dec, chalk & cheese, balloon and razor blade] by bouncing ideas off each other with juxtaposing songs by each of them in turn, intertwining these with poems and stories which are updated and redetermined by the ambience of the venue and reactions of the audience and incorporating the use of various instruments including a harp and a Jamaican steel drum. One example of this is the manner in which I have seen Sam's interpretation of the traditional ballad Matty Groves [made internationally well known by Fairport Convention around 1970] grow into a splendid piece of performance art over the 5 or 6 shows I've attended.
Watch out for them in your neck of the woods - I promise you - you will not be disappointed.
The headliners of the OneTaste evening were another new band to me - The Moulettes - a word which I'm finding it very difficult to remember [German Wikipedia tells me a moulette is a type of tool used in rotogravure!].
The Moulettes turned out to be a fantastic revelation - just the sort of thing I go out looking for on a night such as this. MySpace tells me they're a quintet, but tonight there were just 4 of 'em - including 2 hot women playing cello and bassoon [how sexy is that!] and 2 chaps percussing away to their hearts content. They all sing and together make an awesome noise and fantastic spectacle [Cate ferris - please note!] they produce a very happy kind of jazz-folk-fusion in the mode of Third Ear Band meets Curved Air and Blowzabella. Nice.
The song writing is excellent to boot and was spoiled by just one thing. By this time the audience had grown quite large and included many people who seemed to believe that their conversation was of more interest than the music - not only to themselves but to everybody else as well. In this they were sorely mistaken and are the only reason I can come up with as a good argument against free events. I know none of the offenders will read this so it's no good me asking them to consider real music lovers when they go to concerts but I will make a plea to performers to take a moment on occasions when this type of travesty occurs to speak out and tell the offenders to go elsewhere and let the rest of us enjoy the show.... [Climb down off soapbox]
Returning to my opening remarks - I think the variety of acts seen on this occasion go a long way to show that there's more to contemporary music than 2 guitars, a bass and a set of drums. I had a great time and I hope everyone else did too.
[A quick apology to the 2 bands I caught brief sight of upstairs at The Latest Music Bar. Sorry I forgot your names & did not witness enough performance to review you but I particularly liked the bluesy soul band with 2 fine female singers I spotted just before 9 o'clock - get in touch with detailsof where I can get to see you sometime.]