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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
by Nick Morgan

The Troxy, London
November 29th 2008

This could be as far east as we’ve ever been for a gig, in this lavishly-converted 1930’s theatre of dreams for the slum-dwelling stevedores and dock labourers of the East End. It was rescued from bingo-hall dereliction a few years ago, but already looks a bad bet as its raison d’être is servicing the needs of corporate clients in nearby Canary Wharf – you know, the ones who’ve spent most of the holidays jumping from high windows at the thought of sending their third four-wheel drive back to the showroom. And frankly it’s not best fitted out for gigs – a carpeted mosh? Too few lavatories, a rather overcrowded and eventually unnerving exit, too many stewards not quite knowing what to do, and an inability to drop the house lights to an acceptable level. But thankfully the sound is pretty good, and Mr Cave and his Bad Seeds are on fire.

Nick Cave
If this year’s Hammersmith gig, the first outing of the new recession-proofed stripped-down Grinderman-inspired Bad Seeds sound that defines Dig Lazarus Dig was good, then this was even better. From opener ‘Hold on to yourself’ to the final encore ‘Stagger Lee’ it’s a relentless progression of uncompromising rock and roll of the highest order. And it’s very loud, not least due to the indefatigable fiddling and tinkering of Warren Ellis – “just how it’s supposed to be”, say one of our youthful companions. Not everything’s in full working shape – ‘Nature Boy’, sounding now as if it belongs to West Hampstead’s Railway Tavern back in 1975, is still “a work in progress”, and there’s little that isn’t given the treatment – including old songs like ‘Hard on for love’. But of course Mr Cave can still disarm everyone by dropping a wickedly funny ballad like ‘God is in the house’ into the middle of such a maelstrom. A 9+ gig if ever there was one. - Nick Morgan (photograph by Kate)
Listen: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' MySpace Page

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, December 1st 2008
Sandy Denny
It looks as ‘though the late Sandy Denny might eventually be about to get some of the recognition that she deserves, but somehow this retrospective evening doesn’t quite satisfy. There’s grumbling from the greybeards behind us, who were expecting a line-up of the great and the good, most of whom haven’t shown up. Instead we’ve got an array of young and largely impressive British talent, such as Mary Epworth, Jim Moray, Christina Donaghue and Johnny Flynn. The house band was made up of various members of Bellowhead, and Jerry Donaghue, who has just produced a very well-received album from the ‘lost’ tapes of Denny’s band Fotheringay. Dave Swarbrick nearly stole the show, and a painfully theatrical Marc Almond, with Baby Dee on harp and piano, didn’t. But at the end of it all there was something unsatisfactory here – Denny, with her complex songs and even more complex life, is an enigma that the evening did little to unravel.- Nick Morgan (photograph by Kate)
Listen: Mary Epworth's MySpace Page

Union Chapel, Islington, London, December 3rd 2008
Josh Rouse Post fish and chips it’s off to a very full and Christmasified Union Chapel for an almost solo Josh Rouse, who has a retrospective collection on the market for Christmas. Just slightly overweight, he looks like a junior professor at an American college – English Literature I would guess, probably specialising in Thomas Hardy. Never mind. He apparently doesn’t like being described as a ‘blue eyed soul singer’, but that’s what he is, and he does it very, very, well.
There are a few new songs, all inspired by his current sojourn in Valencia, but otherwise it’s ‘hit’ after ‘hit’, and the audience go really crazy, which is a little bemusing because it’s good, but not that good.- Nick Morgan (photograph by Kate)
Listen: Josh Rouse's MySpace Page

Hammersmith Apollo, London, December 15th 2008
There are few artists who can begin an almost-two-hour set with a brutally frank song about domestic violence (‘Last night I heard the screaming’) and manage to keep the attention of their audience, because believe me it didn’t get much happier than this. But the disarmingly self-effacing Ms Chapman somehow managed it, playing solo on guitars, and chatting at length in a fairly autobiographical fashion between songs. The singing was wonderful, the guitar effective, the songs mostly engaging and sadly pessimistic. But the weird thing was the audience – it was as though they’d been shipped in from a recording of a Bruce Forsyth TV Special, and yet Chapman’s material is hardly the stuff of which variety shows are made. “They’re all American” opined the Photographer, but I wasn’t so sure. - Nick Morgan
Listen: Tracy Chapman's MySpace Page

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, December 17th 2008
This show was put together and compered by Teddy Thompson as a benefit for Amnesty International, and was notable as it brought Teddy, sister Kami (she’s had an unfortunate Martha Wainwright makeover) and mum and dad Richard and Linda Thompson on stage together, a very rare sight indeed. Linda (whose only solo singing was from behind a curtain) and Teddy seemed to get very emotional about this, Kami was too busy doing her Martha stuff, and dad seemed to be suffering from mild jet lag. “Here’s a song I wrote on the plane on the way over” – it was called ‘The wrong presents’ – “I hope it’s ok. It sounded alright in my head”. They’re joined by a variety of luminaries who work their way through a variety of mostly seasonal songs. “I don’t know any Christmas songs” said an out-of-sorts Bert Jansch, who had earlier played ‘Anji’ as a tribute to Davy Graham whose death was announced the day before the gig. Glaswegian Brendan Campbell also struggled with his version of ‘Good King Wenceslas’, which was a shame as he was a most engaging singer and guitarist.
Thompson Family
Behind all the soloists was that house band to beat all house bands, led by Kate St John, and featuring Roger Eno on keyboards and David Coulter on guitars, mandolin and saw. Rachel Unthank and the Winterset sang a seasonal song from the North East of England which I’m sure was called ‘The Hexham shaggers’, whilst New York’s very camp Justin Bond sang a timely song called ‘The new depression’. The portly Chris Difford turned up with a song decrying seasonal excess – I think it might have been his Christmas single ‘Let’s not fight this Christmas’, whilst Teddy floated in and out with various performers (including Jenni Muldaur) and sang beautifully. Nor should I forget to mention human beatboxer Shlomo, whose medley of Christmas carols was to say the least surprising, and wonderfully joyful. Yes – it was a very pleasant evening.
Oh yes – and there’s a special Christmas song by Teddy & Co which you can download from you-know-where and make a donation to Amnesty – so if you still have any of that seasonal goodwill about you, you should go and have a look.- Nick Morgan (photograph by Kate)
Listen: Teddy Thompson's MySpace Page

Shepherds Bush Empire, London, December 21st 2008
The Blockheads Well it’s almost Christmas isn’t it – and it’s the last gig of a busy year, so why not indulge in a pure piece of seventies nostalgia? Not that the Blockheads would have it that way – almost half the songs they play are either from their last album ‘Where’s the party’, or their forthcoming ‘Looking down a barrel’. There’s not much to say about these tireless troubadours that you haven’t already heard. But I would say that from my vantage point I was astonished at the complexity of Johnny Turnbull’s guitar parts (and the ease with which he performed them, as he hadn’t looked entirely on top form in the Thai restaurant before the gig), and of course Norman Watt Roy’s bass playing – every song a solo. A perfectly satisfying way to end a year.- Nick Morgan (photograph by Kate)
Listen: The Blockheads' MySpace Page

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