Wolf Alice at Oxford Academy 13.03.2016

Wolf Alice prove why they are the most exciting British rock band around today, leaving Oxford with a trail of glitter in their wake.

Opening band, grunge try-hards, Bloody Knees sounded more like a Nirvana B-sides cover band. It begged the question where they got their name from: when vigorously pleading on their knees to Wolf Alice’s tour manager to let them support, or worse, when providing him with sexual pleasure. (Despite my admittedly harsh criticism Joff and Joel of Wolf Alice would later sport Bloody Knees merch, so what do I really know).

Swim Deep, however, nicely set the stage for the main act. Their set included ‘King City’ and ‘She Changes the Weather’ from their 2013 debut, and one couldn’t help but get lost in the dream pop. Aided, no doubt, by performance enhancing substances, frontman Ozzy Williams looked like an anti-drugs campaign advert. His over-sized white shirt could have been mistaken for an escaped strait jacket and combined with his occasional wide-eyed psychotic scream Williams could have just walked onstage from an insane asylum. In half an hour they showcased their excellent second album, ‘Mothers’, finishing with ‘Fueiho Boogie’, the colossal trance-pop anthem of 2015. The performance culminated in four out the five members plugged into a keyboard/synthesiser, synthesising away, to carefully transport the crowd to whatever planet Swim Deep had reached.

Having been supported by Drenge on their last tour, this is a testament to the scale of Wolf Alice’s ascent in the past year. They’ve leapfrogged the aforementioned Drenge and now Swim Deep (whom Wolf Alice actually supported in 2014) – both with two albums under their belt – to lead the pack of upcoming British rock bands. The future looks bright.

Somewhere between the attempted grunge of Bloody Knees and the indie-pop of Swim Deep lies Wolf Alice. ‘Genreising’ the band proves to be a tough ask with the following terms being used in attempt to categorise: ‘Brit-Grunge’, ‘shoegazing indie’, ‘90s indie rock’, ‘intimate folk’ and ‘bubblegrunge’, whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. Ultimately, they don’t fit a mould; they simply don’t follow the ‘guide to making an indie band’, which is possibly the finest compliment I can pay.

Opening with ‘Your Loves Whore’, the pulsing strobe lights flashing an intense orange added to the ferocity of what would be a fierce performance. The anti-love song set the standard for what would be an intense and hard-hitting show. Followed by ‘You’re a Germ’, the disgust and animosity spat out by the wide and wild-eyed Ellie Rowsell almost felt personal. Adorning a black dress and covered in glitter, the frontwoman looked both ready for prom, but also as if she was about to attend a funeral. Perhaps this interpretation was more reflective of the themes she would sing about. Nonetheless, this is enough reason to tear down those posters of Hayley Williams, or for those still living in the nineties, Courtney Love, because Ellie Rowsell is the new poster girl for rock.

The glitter-clad crowd looked like a group you’d expect to see at a Paramore gig, the same sort that camped overnight to get into the first showing of Twilight Eclipse the day it opened back in 2010. Maybe they followed the trail of glitter to the venue, or their curiosity in the fact the band is named after a fairy tale by Angela Carter. Maybe it’s me being cynical, but nevertheless, this shouldn’t distract from the serious subjects being tackled. Deceptively dark themes of growing up, adolescence, love, abuse, drugs, depression and death, are hauntingly but innocently embodied by Wolf Alice and their music.

‘Bros’ and ‘Freazy’ immediately follow. These very danceable, more light-hearted tracks complimant and simultaneously provide a welcome respite from the venomous fury of the opening two songs. The untamed songs juxtaposed to the dreamier, sway-inducing numbers demonstrate this ranging unpredictability which makes Wolf Alice the band to watch and the best product of 2015. The more composed ‘Silk’ is a highlight, even better live than on record. It sounds like a lullaby, and is another example of the set fluctuating from feral to the ethereal in an instant. The 23 year old Rowsell proves she is both vocally brilliant and able to convey ranging emotions, much like Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith.

Wolf Alice isn’t all about its gem of a frontwoman, however. At stage right prowls Joff Oddie, the band’s lead guitarist whose influence on the band’s sound is evident on ‘Lisbon’, ‘Fluffy’ and with just about every guitar effect heard on the night. On the other side of Rowsell lurks the open-shirted, stagefloor-spitting, bass slapping Theo Ellis looking like Sid Vicious but overdosed on glitter. Drummer Joel Amey, makes sure he isn’t overlooked, adequately assuming vocals for ‘Swallow Tail’, the band’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. The unrushed, winding five minute build-up concludes with a final minute, swallowdive plunge into musical chaos.

The quartet have set a new standard for upcoming bands. The band refused to rush their first album as four EPs teased us before the much-anticipated debut was dropped last summer. These EPs were showcased this evening with the dreamy ‘90 Mile Beach’, head-banging ‘Storms’, nightmarish ‘She’ and heart-breaking ‘Blush’ proving that Wolf Alice’s back catalogue is extensive and impressive. Debut ‘My Love is Cool’ was a long time coming, especially since the band’s inception as a folk duo (Rowsell and Oddie) back in 2010. But it didn’t disappoint, receiving widespread critical acclaim and certainly ranking among my best debuts of recent years. As a result, Wolf Alice are Brit nominees, Mercury Prize nominees, NME award winners, and most remarkably Grammy nominees for closing firecracker ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’.

The band returned to the stage for an encore starting with ‘Turn to Dust’, its messages of immortality posing food for thought as it diffused throughout Oxford Academy. They would finish with the giant ‘Giant Peach’, making sure they left their glittery mark on another stage on their sold out tour. Assisted by Rowsell and Ellis’s trademark dance routine, this finale marked an undisputed effortless triumph.

While the band are unlikely to have thought about a second album – their debut being proof of why to not rush records out – fans will wait hungry for more. In the meantime, they should savour these shows because this might well be the last chance you get to see Wolf Alice in such an intimate environment.

Foals at Barclaycard Arena 19.02.2016

What Went Down when Nick Harris saw Foals in Birmingham

Foals are a band famous for their live shows; from their legendary early gigs in living rooms to the intense intimacy of academy-sized venues. Would their promotion to a fifteen thousand capacity venue change this? Of course not.

Support came from two members of Peace drunkenly pressing play on an Ipod and possibly the most underrated band with the most criminally overlooked album of the year, Everything Everything. While the DJ set was nothing short of genre diarrhoea going from Nirvana to the Happy Mondays to Justin Timberlake, you would, however, be forgiven for leaving the gig at 11pm talking about Everything Everything. Arguably, the most interesting band in the country, Everything Everything provided a support performance worthy of a headline slot. Leaning heavily on 2015’s Get To Heaven, oddly, the album low point, Fortune 500, proved to be the high point of the set. It saw frontman Jonathan Higgs, bassist Jeremy Pritchard and guitarist Alex Robertshaw, fought a passionate duel of politically charged vocals. Closing number, Distant Past, really set the standard for which the headlining band of the night would gladly follow.

Opening with Snake Oil, anyone thinking Foals’ rise to arenas would lessen the intensity of their live shows was proved wrong when the first drum beat kicked in. Mosh pits emerged, almost instinctively, like Foals songs just emit aggression-stimulating pheromones. This was equally as sweaty, equally as intense and equally as impressive thanks to the production and the scale of the new album, What Went Down.

In spite of White Went Down’s success, seminal math pop debut Antidotes (2008) got it’s deserved fair share. Olympic Airwaves, Balloons and Red Socks Pugie proved very danceable numbers on the night. 2013’s Holy Fire offered notable highlights such as Providence, which found a gear above that of the album version, including two filthy false endings; Inhaler likely left lots of audience members short of breath requiring one; and frontman Yannis Philippakis gracefully glided around stage performing a guitar solo to Late Night like a ballroom dance. While Philippakis unquestionably steals the show, a man of few words and fewer inches in height, yet commanding such respect and adoration, an honourable mention must go to his bandmates. Jack Bevan (drums), Jimmy Smith (guitar), Walter Gervers (bass) and Edwin Congreave (keyboardist) all add intricate details to the delicate construction of the behemoth of a sound that is Foals.

The succulent Spanish Sahara blissfully permeated throughout the Barclaycard Arena. It provided a welcome break to the moshing madness that had not ceased since the band walked on stage an hour earlier. As the song built, the crowd, as is tradition, sunk to the sticky Birmingham floor, finding empty beer cups and stray shoes, lost on the arena battlefield. The local charity shop mustn’t have believed their luck the following morning, with the sheer number of pieces of clothing discarded, like a space shuttle ejecting its rocket boosters after take-off, for the sake of maximum audience performance and enjoyment.

Dedicated to deep-sea divers, secondary school teachers, anyone working in milkshake parlours and Yannis’s mum (for obvious reasons…), A Knife In The Ocean was a welcome inclusion from the latest album. In comparison to Spanish Sahara, both are decelerated, slow-building songs, allowing for a breather; both are also pieces of musical beauty in which it is easy to lose one’s self. Yet at the same time, both songs are almost the antithesis of one-another. Although Spanish Sahara is peaceful and pleasurable in its aims, A Knife In The Ocean with its harsh guitar chords in the chorus stunned the audience into a painful submission towards the end of the set.

What Went Down resumed chaos, as expected. Foals’ hardest rocking single, Inhaler on steroids, incited riot-like pandemonium. Whether it be me being corny or perhaps the fruity smell radiating from a nearby cigarette structure, as Yannis professed I saw not men (and women), but a crowd of lions, such was the feline ferocity of the audience, matching the song. They once said their music aimed to ‘mimic the sound of the solar system’, but for five minutes the crowd got an insight into what the end of the universe would look like, as What Went Down was the soundtrack to that apocalypse.

During closing number Two Steps Twice, Philippakis was unable to showcase his parkour skills, as he was denied the chance to jump into the crowd from a balcony, a staple of any Foals gig. Philippakis’s failed pursuit of a platform from which to leap took him to seated sections before conceding defeat, a disappointing although undoubtedly sensible, injury-preventing decision. This was perhaps the only thing lacking from an otherwise very impressive statement. An hour and forty minutes was enough to further assure me of their credentials, and simultaneously almost kill me.

Foals oozed the confidence and strut of a band recently receiving the Best Album accolade at the NME Awards; nominated for the Best British Band Brit Award; topping the bill at Reading and Leeds this summer, and promoted to the Premier League of British rock bands. Foals have grabbed the challenge of leading the much-needed new generation of British rock bands and seem to be galloping away with it.

Blossoms at Zephyr Lounge with Viola Beach 11.02.2016

Blossoms have quickly established themselves as the new heroes of the Mancunian rock scene, having been passed the highly decorated, highly respected (and admittedly highly drug-laced) mantle previously held by the likes of Oasis and The Stone Roses. This notion is riddled with inaccuracies though, as Blossoms are proudly neither Mancunian nor a rock band. With Joe Donovan sporting an ‘I ❤ Stockport’ t shirt, it is a vital detail that they originate 6 miles from Manchester. It would also be foolish to liken them to these artists, asides from their regionality. They acknowledge the pressure to follow in the footsteps of the bands who inspired them and the Britpop and Baggy movements but are not willing to imitate them. Blossoms have managed to put their own spin on things, but with these ‘elements of euphoria maintained’. To their credit, you’d have to be musically inept or hard of hearing to compare Blossoms to Oasis or The Stone Roses sonically.

Tom Ogden, lead vocalist and guitarist, openly declares the band to be a pop band – the second mistake being calling Blossoms a rock band. They proudly squash the cockroach-like stigma that is outing yourself as a pop band. Others should take note: Mr Healy of The 1975 and Daniel Smith of Bastille, own up. This possibly explains the band’s choice of music as I entered their dressing room backstage at Zephyr Lounge in Leamington Spa. It’s not The Smiths or The Courteeners preparing the band for the gig, it’s Beyonce featuring Jay Z’s Drunk In Love, and there’s no effort to hide this. They’re not pretentious in their musical influences with inspirations ranging from the Grand Theft Auto Vice City soundtrack to ABBA. Lead guitarist Josh Dewhurst takes the opportunity to prove his true status as a true ABBA fan by announcing the traditional Swedish folk background of ABBA’s Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as if it were common knowledge. Although, when recalling his favourite ABBA songs, he could only manage to recollect ‘the one about money or someone’s mama’. Bassist Charlie Salt outdoes Dewhurst, crediting Kevin and Perry and it’s dance, techno and trance sound for his ‘hypnotic basslines’. This interesting and slightly obscure music taste is surprisingly reflective in their very current but simultaneously retro sound.

While the band are delighted with the sold out Zephyr Lounge gig and do an impressive job rocking it, it’s obvious that the sell-out, 2,000 capacity gig at Manchester Albert Hall later in the month cannot come soon enough. A homecoming gig of that magnitude is a salivating prospect for a band yet to release an album. The band recently supported The Libertines at the Manchester Arena and they reveal they ‘felt most comfortable’ on the 20,000 capacity stage, and rubbing noses with Pete Doherty. Blossoms clearly have their sights set on bigger things and more specifically, bigger stages. This quiet confidence is refreshing and gives them a competitive edge over annoyingly modest others. Ogden exemplifies this, stating that they ‘feel like they deserve it and the songs are good enough’, which is evident in their live performance brimming with swagger and self-assurance. They have been recognised by placing fourth in the BBC Sound of 2016, after all.

The unassuming Blossoms member Myles Kellock sits in the corner behind a curtain of blond hair plugged into an Apple Mac as if recharging himself. His only contribution to the interview is when talking about a lost laptop in a taxi in Manchester after their Libertines support slot: ‘completely f*cking gone’ accompanied by a cutthroat gesture. Despite being a man of few words, it is, in fact, the mute keyboard player that makes the band’s sound truly outstanding. His significant contribution of 80s synth and hints of psychedelia add to the already exceptional combination of the impressively mature vocals and towering Joey Ramone-like presence of frontman Ogden, Dewhursts’s powerful guitar solos, the ‘hypnotic basslines’ of Salt, all held together by Donovan barely breaking a sweat on drums. This fusion of dance, synth, rock and indie proves they really are more than a pop band, and shows why Blossoms won’t fade into the endless abyss of British indie-pop bands.

Blossoms’ big hit and the highlight of the night is undoubtedly Charlemagne. An instant indie classic, it encapsulates all the individual talents of the band into three perfect minutes. The name was introduced to Ogden by his historian brother: Charlamagne AKA Charles the Great, King of the Franks who united much of Western Europe in the early Middle Ages. The elaborate but fitting title serves as a metaphor for placing someone on a pedestal, and the song is cited as a ‘turning point for their sound’ which has been recognised by the band with the new album reflecting that. Other notable mentions are Blown Rose which has obvious Smiths and Suede influences, At Most A Kiss, which demonstrates Kellock’s importance in producing head-nodding, toe-tapping beats, and set-closer Blow, just another example of their contagious melodies.

Blossoms have a big summer ahead of them, consisting of unrelenting festival touring as far as Japan. More importantly, the release of their highly anticipated debut album, date currently unconfirmed but projected by Ogden to be sometime in the summer. As teasingly far away as this seems the band were clearly feeling very positive about it, promising that it sounded ‘really good’ and even ‘exceeded their expectations’. Ogden proclaims that it is ‘best thing they could produce’ and recognises The Coral’s James Skelly, who produced it, for bringing the best out of the band. Donovan summarises the band’s feeling towards their forthcoming album perfectly, like ‘the feeling of doing your homework the night before’. For someone who knows this feeling all too well, they evidently have reason to be quietly confident.

On my exit, Drunk In Love is resumed, and the band returned to frivolities before effortlessly owning the Zephyr Lounge stage. It is unquestionable that this was a unique opportunity to catch a band destined for greatness in such intimate surroundings. Expect to see Blossoms playing much larger venues in the near future, which is why I will be catching them again at Kasbah on March 4th.


About half way through the interview, the room starts rocking as the sound of the opening band reverberates around the dressing room. I manage to catch the second half of this exciting set by an upcoming indie-pop band called Viola Beach. They play tightly and energetically, reflecting the enthusiasm of a group fresh to the world of touring; the desire of a band hungry to make it big and the confidence to do so. This is most evident during their final song, Swings and Waterslides, as Frontman Kris Leonard tosses the microphone stand onto the floor of the crowd and falling to his back shredding his guitar from the ground. It’s the sight of aspiring rock stars living their dreams.

On Sunday 14th February news emerged of a fatal car crash in Sweden involving Viola Beach members Kris Leonard, River Reeves, Tomas Lowe, Jack Dakin and their manager Craig Tarry. The horrific details of this incident are not worth focusing on. What is worth acknowledging is the reaction of the music world, rallying to support and honour this band. The aforementioned Swings and Waterslides has shot from 60,000 Youtube views to well over a million. It has also reached number two in the iTunes chart (at the time of writing, three days after the news of their deaths), following a campaign to get the song to number one. The campaign’s success isn’t out of sympathy, however, it is the genuine appreciation of a talented band on the cusp of big things. What a tragic way for millions of new fans to discover and adore a young, promising band called Viola Beach.

violabeachweb

Why I’ll be going to a European music festival this summer

A subtly-named sneak peak of my forthcoming European travel guide

Britain is home to some of the most legendary music festivals in the world. Legends are made on the pyramid stage at Worthy Farm; the Isle of Wight Festival witnessed Jimi Hendrix’s genius in 1970; a hospital gown-donning Kurt Cobain was immortalised at Reading Festival in 1992; and the Stone Roses arguably initiated the baggy movement at Spike Island in 1990. Every summer for the past four years I have been lucky enough to revel in the glory of music festivals, embracing the atmosphere, witnessing musical history and drinking warm cans of Strongbow as early as 10am. Consequently, every winter for the past four years has been spent mourning my post-festival blues. This summer, however, I plan to expand my horizons and venturing across the channel, seeing how Europeans do music festivals. Here is why I think more should be daring decision and take their tent, wellies and trusty clashfinder to continental Europe.

The UK offers a selection of culturally unique events to satisfy most, with the likes of Bestival, Boomtown and Latitude. But, European festivals can offer this much and more with the festival experience abroad varying tremendously from that in Britain. Very few British camping festivals offer a unique city or beach experience alongside the music and arts. Primavera Sound boasts the perfect festival location, in Barcelona, minutes from the beach. The only comparable British festival beach experience is Boardmasters, on the Cornish coast. Sorry Cornwall, but I’d rather be on the Mediterranean. At Rock en Seine you can enjoy great music, a complimentary croissant and view of Paris. No disrespect to Leeds Festival but Leeds city centre does not quite have the same appeal, likewise Reading festival for that matter. Other notable European offerings include Colours of Ostrava in the Czech Republic, which is held on the industrial site of former blast furnaces, mines and ironworks. Also, the 300 year-old Petrovaradin Fortress plays host to Exit Festival in Serbia.

Although British festival line ups are always reliable, never disappointing though rarely mind-blowingly good, some European festivals regularly produce exceptional billings. In 2015, Belgium’s Rock Werchter boasted a line-up that defies belief, enough to make any music fan salivate over. Spread across four days were Foo Fighters, Florence + The Machine, Mumford & Sons, Pharrell Williams, Alt-J, The Chemical Brothers, Faith No More, The Prodigy, Lenny Kravitz, Noel Gallagher, Muse, Kasabian, I could go on. The fact is, it contained numerous acts that were headlining Britain’s biggest festivals last summer. Emily and Michael Eavis could only dream of having a line up like that at Glastonbury. Sziget, in Budapest offers 7 days of music, which means 7 headliners for under £200. 7 headliners for the price of 3. If the headliners aren’t what entices you to a festival look no further than the world-renowned festival phenomenon Tomorrowland, which has the best selection of EDM and dance artists spread across 20 stages. Surely enough choice for any picky punter. The only problem is acquiring tickets. Think Glastonbury is bad; Tomorrowland tickets sell out in just 60 seconds.

Which brings me nicely to my next point. The ticket prices. For all that offered by Rock Werchter in 2015, you only have to fork out 226 euros, which thanks to the strength of the pound, is around £170. £50 cheaper than most British music festivals. NOS Alive, Portugal’s biggest music festival is even more affordable. At just £102 and already claiming a tasty host of acts for this summer with Radiohead, Arcade Fire, The Chemical Brothers, Pixies, Foals and Tame Impala confirmed for the Lisbon festival. With return flights to Portugal’s capital costing less than £50, the festival situated 10 minutes from the city centre and 15 from the beach, it is really is too good to turn down. Similarly, £110 can get you into the four day Open’er festival in Poland and seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Florence + The Machine and LCD Soundsystem’s return. Again, Germany’s hard rock festival, Rock Am Ring, is just a better Download but for £100 cheaper. Granted, travel expenses do drive the festival cost up closer to the British price mark, however for all these perks it is surely worth it.

It is certainly worth the money to avoid the rib-tickling, thigh-slapping, god-awful fun of British festivals. The infamous and intolerable ‘Alan’ and ‘steve’ ‘banter’, I would assume is a very British creation. I can only hope that this has not made its way to continental Europe. Each year at festivals I expect Alan/Steve to have been a thing of the past, for the missing pair to have finally been confirmed dead on the last day of the previous year’s festival with the joke finally dying too. But no, within minutes of arriving through the festival gates, some imbecile probably wearing yellow ray bans and ‘d*ckhead’ painted across his topless torso cries ‘Alan’. His mate-ing call is answered as another imbecile probably in a morph suit, responds ‘Steve’, the height of wit. I yearn for the day that British festival-goers recite Monty Python to each other.

The terrible banter and the people engaging in it are not the worst thing about British music festivals, however. Sporting a backwards Polo Ralph Lauren cap delicately placed atop an iced-gem shaped haircut, a wife-beater that fails to complement their skinny frame, short denim shorts straight out of the Top Man shop window, a hideous Adidas satchel and even more hideous and completely impractical Nike Huarache, the not-so Great British festival chav is a plague. When they’re not spending all day sat on stolen deckchairs outside their tents vaping and holding a can of Stella Artois neither of which they are old enough to legally purchase, they are attempting to mosh during serene acoustic sets, watching an artist to hear their one song that charted in the Top 40 and trying to incite a riot with the ‘Yaya/Kolo Toure’ chant. While the utterly pretentious, tie dye t-shirt sporting, daisy chain hairstyle wearing, butterfly tattoo donning, gap-yah whining, festival hippy wannabes are just as insufferable. They have only just managed to escape my full wrath because they simply want to have a good time. And get high.

British festivals are most iconic not for the half-wits discussed above, nor the culture or the musical talent on show, but for the dreadful weather. There aren’t many more painful experiences than watching the weather forecast days before you attend a British music festival. Quite simply, the weather is pivotal to your enjoyment of the weekend. The forecaster smiles evilly as they prepare to reveal the devastating, yet inevitable, news that the weekend will be a washout. They then proceed to tell you that a heatwave is expected the following week, sadistically mocking the fact that you will need a power hose to shower off all the mud you are covered in, your tent will be submerged in campsite swamp and you will probably have a miserable weekend. Though there is something fulfilling about braving a wet weekend and earning your festival experience, I doubt anyone has ever required wellies or waterproofs at Benicassim, in sunny Spain.

By going to a foreign music festival, I absolutely don’t mean the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California. That is not a music festival. That is a fashion show. A commercial catwalk. Exposure for the monstrous Kardashian/Jenner clan. The truth is I am only bitter I missed out on a ticket to the greatest music festival in the world, Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. I wouldn’t have written this article otherwise.

The Fratellis at the Copper Rooms 13.11.2015

The Fratellis at our very own Copper rooms was a gig which unfortunately didn’t catch light until the encore, one hour and twenty minutes too late. When arguably the biggest British Indie song of 2006 dropped one song from the end, with the crowd re-energized somewhat belatedly, the venue bounced to a height not even reached on a Wednesday night at POP. If only this fire had lasted the entire set.

The band entered to Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, better known as the can-can song. There were no beautiful French girls high kicking, cartwheeling or skirt dancing; just three unremarkable Glaswegians (plus keyboardist) occupying the Copper Rooms stage.

They relied heavily on the new album, as expected. Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, released in August sounded good enough, with gig opener Baby Don’t You Lie To Me kicking off the night in good tempo. Dogtown showed obvious influences of Stevie Wonder, something that I never thought I’d say about a Fratellis song. The country-inspired Imposters (Little By Little) is probably the highlight of the new album, a sweet song that reeks of inspiration from when the band recorded in LA. Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied marks a move away from the Indie Pop sound of old into various stylistic realms but still maintains us the ability to count the chords used by frontman and guitarist Jon Fratelli, on three fingers. Interestingly, the band enlisted the help of Tony Hoffer, producer of debut album Costello Music, in the production of the new album. Whether this was an attempt to recreate the success of that excellent debut from 2006, it is both undeniable and hardly surprising that the new tracks didn’t go down as well as the ‘classics’ from Costello Music. It did, after all, win them a Brit Award for Best British Breakthrough in 2007, the kiss of death, as their career has failed to reach the same dizzying heights.

The set was, however, carefully crafted to keep the crowd happy with classics delicately placed in between a host of new album tracks. Whistle For The Choir, Henrietta and Baby Fratelli kept the crowd onside by providing rare sing-a-longs and respite from the onslaught of lesser-known songs.

This Coventry gig was the eighth date of the tour, and fatigue – or maybe it was boredom – was evident. The Fratellis, to put it bluntly, did enough, what was required, it was job done without setting the world alight. They were in and out in an hour and a half without breaking into a sweat. Now, I don’t want to be too critical, it was a solid, hard-working set, and the drummer, Mince, at least looked like he was having fun. Additionally, despite minimal chat or breaks they impressively managed 22 songs in the time. In a rare show of any sort of crowd interest, Jon thanked the crowd for keeping them afloat all these years. You can’t help but think that this tour was exactly that, to pay the bills.

Despite closing with a rather raucous cover of Dion’s 1961 Runaround Sue, you almost got the impression that they were doing that to jealously spite an ex-lover. An ex-lover by the name of Chelsea. The pain of playing the monstrously over-popular Chelsea Dagger was evident. So much so they refused to use the song as the fitting conclusion and didn’t even bother to sing the last chorus. Like a ball and chain, a noose around the neck of the career of the Scottish band, I’m sure they are both aware and sick of being reminded of their failure to live up to it. As a result, their dislike of Chelsea Dagger and reluctance to embrace the universally known ‘Da da da etc.’ chant was plain for all to see.

In the end, exactly what The Fratellis probably strove to avoid, they managed to unwillingly achieve. People will remember the gig for having the time of their lives to the regrettably career-defining Chelsea Dagger.

The Who at Hyde Park 26.06.2015

The kids are still alright, even in their 70s

Despite turning 50, The Who can still sell out and rock out Hyde Park. Arriving on stage Pete Townshend proclaimed “You are a long way away, but we will f****** reach you.” They could have reached France on this beautiful Friday evening in London.

The Who, now of legend status clearly didn’t need to rely on gimmicks to win over a crowd. It was refreshing to see a proper rock n roll gig devoid of overly-emphatic entrances with smoke machines and lasers; the opening chords of debut single I Can’t Explain were enough to transport those old enough in the crowd back to 1965. It was incredible to see a huge number of young Mods donning their best Fred Perry and Ben Sherman shirts brought to a frenzy by Townshend, 70, and Roger Daltrey, now 71. The opening number was followed by rock anthems The Seeker and Who Are You, it was evident that The Who were keen to please the 70,000 strong crowd tonight.

The performance was almost a warm up for their triumphant Glastonbury set the following Sunday in which Townshend took a jab at Kanye West’s typically delusional comments about being ‘the greatest living rock star’. Though The Who have halved in size, are now into their 70s and on stage theatrics are minimal they proved they can still stake a claim for this position. As Townshend said, they are still able to ‘blow away younger bands’, and they proved that tonight.

This was part of The Who’s Hits 50 tour, and we were certainly treated to some of rocks greatest hits. I Can See For Miles, My Generation, You Better You Bet, the Paul Weller-requested Pictures Of Lily and Behind Blue Eyes in which the band subtly performed in front of two giant blue eyes, to name a few. Pinball Wizard into See Me, Feel Me was a particular highlight. Songs from Quadrophenia were rarer, largely due to the band’s tour of the album in 2013. However, we didn’t need reminding that that album and Tommy were the original and defining rock operas that inspired so many, exemplifying Pete Townshend’s unique songwriting and artistic talents. Notable exclusions from the set were Tea and Theatre, Magic Bus and oddly Substitute, surely one of the first songs on any Who fans’ dream set list. Other notable yet inevitable exclusions included deceased original members Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Drummer Moon and bassist Entwistle, are arguably the greatest performers of their respective instruments of all time, and we were reminded of them when their pictures were displayed on the big screen montages. Zak Starkey and Pino Palladino were fitting replacements for the irreplaceable pair.

Roger Daltrey lacking his iconic curls and bare chest still has his legendary dance moves, swinging his mic round passionately as if after 50 years he still has a point to prove. Pete Townshend, pioneer of guitar showmanship didn’t hold back with his infamous windmilling, but his age limited him to few leaps and unfortunately guitar smashes have been defunct since 2004. The legendary tension between Daltrey and Townshend is still evident. But this was the tension that fuelled the pair’s undoubted chemistry and made the band’s songs and live performances so ferocious. Without trying to sound condescending, while I was delighted and privileged to see them with rumours of retirement constantly circulating and Daltrey’s health restricting their touring commitments, I couldn’t help but wish I had gotten to see them in their heyday. Set in the basement of a sweaty London club, imagine Keith Moon destroying his drumkit while undoubtedly intoxicated, Entwistle subtly laying down huge bass lines, Daltrey’s original macho showman oozing charisma and sex appeal, with Townshend destroying his Fender Stratocaster, displaying the theatrics that made them the most famous and exciting band to see live; it is tough to find any rock n roll fan who wouldn’t dream of reliving this. Nevertheless, it has to be acknowledged that they are still doing an immense job showing the youngsters how rock n roll is done.

I challenge anyone to find a gig that ends so triumphantly, finishing with the songs that bookended classic album Who’s Next, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Baba O’Riley sent roars of ‘teenage wasteland’ around London; grown men sang the lyric like they were desperately clinging to their childhood which they have just regained for this one beautiful summers evening. From one huge anthem to another, doubts I’d originally had over Daltrey’s ageing voice were quashed when he hit the final scream during set-closing Won’t Get Fooled Again. As Daltrey growled his way to the epic end, Townshend continued to windmill his way to the furious finale. The marathon track could have lasted another ten minutes, but opting against an encore the band finished on a definite high, sending their army of Mods home more than satisfied.

The musical influence and longevity of The Who is unquestionable when considering the incredible line up on the day: Mod torch bearer Paul Weller of The Jam and Johnny Marr of The Smiths, represent the two most significant British bands of the 1980s. In addition, the undercard included Gaz Coombes (formerly of Supergrass) representing Britpop and the Kaiser Chiefs, post Brit-Pop Indie; these artists would possibly not be here if not for The Who. Their cultural impact and timelessness is obvious too, as thousands of fans of all ages streamed out of Hyde Park and into the abyss of London: Fred Perry shirts, sideburns and parkas as far as the eye could see, children in Quadrophenia shirts, and the soundtrack of ‘we are the mods’ ringing out. They were clearly important for music, but they became the main driving force behind a sub-culture and the cultures that came from that, vitally providing the voice of a disillusioned, disenfranchised generation and generations to come.

This was just another reminder, if the world needed one, that The Who, now half a century in age, must be held in the same league as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when considering Britain’s rock n roll royalty.

George Ezra at Brixton Academy 20.02.2015

Not quite Ezra-Ordinary

George Ezra provides an enjoyable show that will only get better with experience

The beautiful Brixton Academy was a fitting venue to stage one of Britain’s most exciting emerging musical talents of the past few years. However it wasn’t big enough to fit the thousands of fans left disappointed after missing out on tickets for a tour that entirely sold out in ten minutes. Streams of fans queued outside the venue filtering down several Brixton backstreets, eagerly anticipating hearing some popular soulful blues. George Ezra had toured festivals relentlessly last summer and supported Sam Smith in the US last year, but this night was all about him and the backdrop embellishing the word ‘Ezra’ confirmed it. As 8:30 neared, the sold-out Academy waited in anticipation to witness Ezra and that colossal voice.

Jacob Anderson better known by his stage name Raleigh Ritchie, even better known as his character from Game of Thrones Grey Worm, was the warm up act. Evidently delighted to be supporting Ezra, Ritchie leapt around the stage to his hip-hop beats like an AA battery bunny after drinking a four pack of Red Bull. He is arguably a more talented musician and endurance jumper-up-and-downer than actor, and he is definitely someone to look out for on the hip-hop music scene. Though genre-wise not an obvious choice for a support act, Ritchie managed to get the crowd into some sort of dancing mood and ready for the main event.

Tensions grew with the imminent arrival of Ezra as a black screen shielded the stage throughout the interval. This would fall to unveil George Ezra and his band as they simultaneously launched into the very popular and infectious Cassy O. Bar a minor smirk, Ezra looked relatively unfazed by the scale of the crowd, a packed out Brixton academy, as he confidently approached the microphone. As he raced through the song like an unstoppable freight train, what became apparent was his self-assured swagger. Ezra, as he would throughout the concert, swayed, rocked, bounced up and down and side-to-side like he was ballroom dancing with his guitar. It proved to be a strong start, one immediately involving sing-a-longs and dancing, and that would set the night off on the right foot. The next few songs contained the big singles Blame it on Me and Listen to the Man which inevitably went down well with the crowd. Playing these songs so early on just reflects how confident Ezra is in his back catalogue and album.

Between each song Ezra would take a swig of tea presumably to numb voice to those famous gravelly bass baritone levels reminiscent of Lead Belly or Barry White. After all most conversations regarding George Ezra involve someone saying he doesn’t look like he should sound like that, which is true, he sounds like a 50 year old southern blues singer, not a skinny baby-faced 21 year old in a groovy shirt. In spite of this the hysterical screaming of girls in the audience did bring his voice down an octave. Additionally there was not as much talk by Ezra during these breaks, only to point out the relevance of each song to his year travelling round Europe, which forms the premise of his album. It was difficult to tell if he was overwhelmed, humbled, shy, or uninterested. I should probably let him off due to the fact that he was so ill the Manchester gig the next day had to be cancelled. Ezra did, however, spare us the relentless, cringe-worthy thanks at every opportunity that many young artists feel is necessary, so I appreciated that.

Ezra’s big mistake was sending away his backing band, who looked like they were discarded members of Mumford and sons, to perform three solo songs. Beginning with the unrecognisable and unimpressive Over The Creek, it sounded as though his normally reliable semi-acoustic guitar was out of tune. This was followed by a less than average cover of one of Ezra’s (and every singer songwriter that ever existed) idols Bob Dylan. Girl From The North Country went lost on the many teenage fan girls in the audience. Fortunately the backing band re-emerged and blasted out Ezra’s jazziest number Stand by Your Gun bringing the set – and the audience – back to life.

The Bristolian had far better luck with his next cover of Macy Gray’s I Try that he had recorded for BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge earlier that week. The nostalgia of this 90s/00s hit was ripe amongst audience members who thoroughly appreciated this number and it looked like Ezra was enjoying himself by this point. It also reflected Ezra’s talent to make this classic song his own, smothering it with blues and his iconic low vocals.

Spectacular Rival would provide evidence of Ezra’s vocal range and talents as he reached depths that no man has ever sung at. It was this, I’m sure, that was to blame for the ice in my drink instantly melting. Beautiful ballad Breakaway proved to be the highlight of the night, a simplistic number that slowly built up to a big sing-a-long, as a full Brixton Academy bellowed ‘breakaway’ at the pleased 21 year old.

Ezra decided not to save Budapest, his biggest single for the encore, the most obvious choice and what most probably expected. I felt like this was a mistake as he possibly peaked too soon, as the crowd euphorically recited the words. It was evidence proving that this song named after the capital city of Hungary was one of 2014s biggest singles. Unfortunately I noticed some ‘fans’ leaving after Budapest before the encore. I guess they’d seen what they wanted, the one song they knew, and didn’t want to risk missing their trains home to witness a few more songs.

Instead he would finish with Did You Hear the Rain?, which is his most passionate song, and the only one that could pass as a rock number. The song opened with an incredible acapella section that built up for a minute and a half before unleashing into a rhythm that is difficult not to dance to. By the end of the song Ezra’s guard and cool exterior was non-existent as he tore into a furious, roaring climax. If I had to nit-pick I would say that Did You Hear the Rain? would make a fantastic opening number, immediately establishing a fiery mood for an evening of delight.

While overall it was generally an enjoyable and impressive gig, there is definite room for improvement. George will be keen to hear my suggestions for improvements, these include a set list shake up, greater crowd interaction and call and response style sing-a-longs, but this will come with experience. Ezra has had some year, his debut album Wanted On Voyage reached number one, went triple platinum, he received four Brit Award nominations and his current tour sold out in ten minutes. The most staggering thing about these achievements is that he is only 21 years old. He undoubtedly has a fantastic future ahead of him.

Also, just in case the girl stood in front of me during the gig happens to go to Warwick University: I may be six foot two but I still can’t see over or through your arms which you held up and waved about for an hour straight like a tree climbing sloth. You will never know how frustrating that was for everyone stood around you.

 

Second Album Syndrome 2016

As Big Ben struck twelve and 2015 ceased to exist, my mind wasn’t on arranging myself and my fellow drunkards into a circle, crossing arms to attempt to sing Auld Lang Syne or which New Year’s Resolution I would break first before returning to university. I was thinking intently as to what 2016 would have in store for the world, musically, of course.

Here is a selection of the six artists who I think could have a huge year in 2016. These are all acts who are under pressure to follow up hugely successful debuts, at risk of the dreaded condition known as ‘second album syndrome’. I’ve also picked a selection of artists rumoured to be releasing new albums in 2016.


Haim
The Haim sisters burst onto the scene in 2013 with their superb debut Days Are Gone. Tracks like Forever, Falling and The Wire established Haim as the biggest female rock band in the world, something the rock music industry was craving. Three years on, a follow up is in the works, but having supported Taylor Swift on her 1989 World Tour, I have faith that the ladies won’t have ‘sold out’ and this won’t be obvious on their forthcoming album. Also, the world wants to see the infamous Este Haim bass-face in all its glory ASAP.

Frank Ocean
The second of a number of artists who face the dreaded possibility of second album syndrome. The Grammy award winning Channel Orange will prove tough to beat, but Kendrick Lamar proved sceptics wrong by outdoing Good Kid M.A.D City with arguably the album of 2015, To Pimp A Butterfly. It will have been four years since the release of Ocean’s debut, the wave of success that accompanied Channel Orange is still high as the anticipation of its sequel in the hip-hop world is undoubted. Another ingenious, sonically eclectic album could propel Ocean into the music stratosphere.

London Grammar
The British trio’s beautifully ethereal debut If You Wait is almost forgotten. Despite being in their early 20s and managing to capture the angst of today’s youthful generation on their first album, they are another group that have a lot to live up to. They have been dormant for a while, a dangerous game to play, remember Grammy Award winning Gotye? Only just. London Grammar are a wonderfully unique band that are a testament to the British music industry. One can only hope they return with a strong second album to match the first.

Royal Blood
Following monstrous hits Little Monster, Out Of The Black and Figure It Out elevating Royal Blood to mainstream success, you wouldn’t blame the sceptics for writing off their chances of repeating these successes. However, the sceptics could well be wrong, as frontman and bassist Mike Kerr and drummer Ben Thatcher premiered Hook Line and Sinker at Reading & Leeds Festivals to a positive reception with head banging and mosh pits galore, this was the first glimpse at new material. If this is anything to go by, the pair dubbed the saviours of rock (by me) could prove to be good for this crown, though they still have some way to live up to their earth-shattering debut.

The 1975
Love them or loathe them, Matt Healy and Co. have a habit of making very catchy pop tunes. New singles Love Me and UGH! prove that, even if UGH! is about cocaine. The overly long and slightly creepily named I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It is due on February 26. They are coming into their own as live artists and developing an artistic image, so, expect to see them high up on the festival line-ups. 2016 could prove to be another big year for the 1975 as they look to build on the commercial success of their self-titled debut.

Bastille
Bastille released the most alarmingly infectious hit of 2013, one so contagious that 2013 was not the year of E-BOLA but the year of the Pompeii pandemic. Their debut Bad Blood brimming with indie-pop anthems reached number one in the UK and filled out festival stages, however, their debut will probably fade into obscurity with Taylor Swift’s single of the same name likely to come to mind first and more importantly top of Google searches for the phrase. With some genuinely smart covers (Of the Night and What Would You Do), Bastille are clearly a talented pop band. A strong second album with a title that hopefully won’t be overshadowed by one of the biggest pop songs of the 21st century should see them gain even more popularity.


A selection of other artists to keep an eye on in 2016:

Guns N Roses
Rumours have been rife for months for a GNR full reunion and earlier this week these were confirmed as the original band were announced as the first headliners for the world’s most annoying music festival, Coachella. While it could be one of the biggest comebacks of 2016, their recent British performances were notoriously dire and for rock ‘legends’ they have never managed to live up to the seminal album, Appetite for Destruction. Although Slash and Axl Rose are said to have ‘buried the hatchet’, the odds on the pair killing each other before a new album is released must be pretty low.

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Biffy Clyro
Simon Neil has aimed for ‘Deafheaven meets Tears for Fears meets Death Grips’ on Biffy’s seventh effort. It will be very interesting to see how hip hop sounds with a thick Scottish accent, crossed with metal and…Tears For Fears. Whether this is what is needed to upgrade from headlining Reading & Leeds to the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury we will have to wait and see.

Arcade Fire
3 years on since the release of Reflektor, a film, and an album from everyone’s favourite Butler (Will), the Canadian band are due a record if they are to stick to their 3 year cycle of producing game-changing indie-rock albums.

The Last Shadow Puppets
Last seen drunkenly dancing to the Strokes at Hyde Park, the Alex Turner/Miles Kane coalition is back with a follow up to their experiment gone good The Age of Understatement.

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Bloc Party
With a new line up to accompany Kele Okereke, Hymns will drop on January 29th. If lead single The Love Within is anything to go by, expect a slightly different but equally awesome sounding Bloc Party.

Nine Inch Nails
Trent Reznor, December 18th: ‘New NIN coming in 2016. Other stuff, too.’ Awesome.

Savages
The teasers of second album Adore Life are sounding good. Very good. T.I.W.Y.G. and The Answer suggest that the 2016 festival season could belong to Savages.

Lady Gaga
After Artpop failed to change popular music in the clearly overambitious ways it was intended, Gaga has reinvented herself as Tony Bennett’s jazz partner and then as a Golden Globe-nominated actress for her part in American Horror Story. Can she rediscover the form from The Fame and The Fame Monster that made her the most exciting pop star in the world at that time?

Hinds
You’ve got to be self-assured to release a Best O’ album before an actual LP. The cheerily named Leave Me Alone is released in early 2016 for the highly thought of, all-female Spanish Indie rockers.

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Blossoms
The second debut album on the list, Blossoms are on the BBC Sound of 2016 Shortlist, need I say more? Well they’re also named after a pub. Perfect.

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Jack Garratt
Making up a trio of debutants, the Brits Critics Choice Award winner will release Phase in February. The multi-instrumentalist already has over a million monthly listeners on Spotify, expect him to repeat the success of fellow Critics Choice Award winners Sam Smith and James Bay.

Gorillaz
Damon Albarn’s cartoon crew 2D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle and Russel Hobbs are said to be reviving their roles as the world’s most famous animated band, for a new album with none other than David Bowie being linked for a collaboration.

Kanye West
The ‘greatest living rock star on the planet’ (his words not mine) will release his seventh album in 2016, currently called SWISH (subject to change). If it’s half as good as Yeezus, he may begin to live up to his self-proclaimed status.

Red Hot Chili Peppers
Already confirmed to headline a handful of festivals across Europe, expect brand new material with the Chili’s eleventh album produced by the legendary Danger Mouse almost finished.

The XX
What will the band be like following the undisputable success of Jamie XX’s album In Colour. NSYNC, Take That, The Backstreet Boys are just a number of ‘artists’ that were rocked by member’s solo projects. Fortunately, The XX don’t share too many similarities with them.

Blink-182
Following Tom Delonge’s departure and Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba’s recruitment, are the ageing pop-punk heroes biting off more than they can chew by attempting a new album? Their last outing, the criminally underrated Neighborhoods (2011), would suggest not.

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Radiohead
After Atoms For Peace, Thom Yorke’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes and Jonny Greenwoods’ dabblings in film scores, Radiohead are said to be working on a follow up to The King of Limbs, enough to make any Radiohead fan to get flustered.


2015 saw the conversion of nearly all to Beliebers, Dave Grohl yet again proving why he is the Man, by finishing a gig with a broken leg, and the rise of the evil tyranny that is the Taylor Swift Empire. Whatever happens in 2016, I’m sure it is going to be another terrific year in music.

Grammblings

Rock artists have no problems collecting Grammy Awards, just look at Bruce Springsteen with 20 and I’m sure Bono will show you the crown he had melted out of the 22 trophies U2 have won. Rock does have its own categories, of course. However, annually, the decisions made by ‘industry experts’ to historically cement a Best Rock Album, Song, Performance etc, of the year, does provide frustrations to rock music fans. It is shocking that The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Queen, The Who and Tupac Shakur have never won a Grammy Award. It is unforgivable that The Strokes, The Kinks, The Velvet Underground and Talking Heads have never even received a nomination. This list of grammy-less music icons is long enough but worryingly it seems to be growing. With the nominations for the 2016 awards being announced on December 7th, and with a host of outrageous omissions and inclusions, the rock categories are more neglected than ever.

Starting with the holy grail of the rock categories, the Grammy Award for Best Rock Album. 2016’s nominations boast a list of possibly the most uninspiring rock albums of the year. I will start with James Bay’s The Chaos and the Calm. Enough to make any rock music fan feel nauseous. It must be obvious what’s coming next. Best Rock Album?! Just because he wears a hat doesn’t make him Slash. Quickly moving on. Second on my hit list is Matt Bellamy’s most egotistical and self-indulgent work yet, Muse’s Drones. Take the song Revolt as an example, ‘They’ll take away our homes, They’re just machines and drones’. Hardly Dylan or Cohen-esq. Then there’s the highly suspect decision to award Highly Suspect a nomination for their almost unknown album Mister Asylum. We’ve also got the remarkably unremarkable Kintsugi by Death Cab For Cutie. The only album on the list even slightly worthy of the nomination for Best Rock Album of the Year is Slipknot’s comeback 0.5 The Gray Chapter. The disappointing thing is that I could list five better rock albums from the past year off the top of my head. Wolf Alice’s sublime debut My Love Is Cool, Mini Mansions’ shockingly yet inevitably overlooked The Great Pretenders, Foals’ What Went Down and The Maccabees’ Marks To Prove It (both lacking necessary exposure across the pond), Kurt Vile’s B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down…, Blur’s The Magic Whip, Father John Misty’s I Love You, Honeybear, I could go on.

This dull list of Best Rock albums possibly overcomes the controversies of past years. U2’s notorious musical nuisance Songs of Innocence’s nomination last year, and even worse, Led Zeppelin’s live album Celebration Day winning in 2014, despite being recorded in 2007 and released in 2012. It should be acknowledged that the real controversy here was that this was the first Grammy won by Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin, whom some regard as the greatest rock band of all time, should have been recognised for their genre-defining work four decades ago.

Interestingly the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) did see past the latest albums of usual Grammy favourites Mumford and Sons, Dan Auerbach’s The Arcs and Foo Fighters. Although they did manage to slip a debatable nomination in for Something From Nothing for Best Rock Performance. As did British grunge newcomers and future superstars Wolf Alice, who received a humbling but much-deserved nomination for their juggernaut hit Moaning Lisa Smile. They join Dave Grohl and Co., Alabama Shakes’ Don’t Wanna Fight, Elle King’s Ex’s and Oh’s, and Florence + The Machine’s What Kind of Man, on what is a far more encouraging list. I could be picky, Tame Impala, to name one exclusion, had a fistful of hits, but let’s not spoil the party. Whether the NARAS make a respectable decision we shall have to see on Friday 15th February (see 2014 Best Rock Performance going to alt-rock anti-heroes and drum-assaulting Imagine Dragons’ pop hit Radioactive over the consistently criminally overlooked Queens of the Stone Age, with My God is the Sun).

The most exciting rock-related Grammy category of recent years is undoubtedly for Best Alternative Album. Despite being a category within which to honour Radiohead whenever they release an album, and the considerably blurred lines between the rock/alternative categories (with Green Day, The White Stripes, Coldplay and the Black Keys interchanging between the two), it does boast the strongest rock albums. This year Tame Impala, Alabama Shakes, Bjork, My Morning Jacket and Wilco are up for the gong. Last year saw a list that could have easily been mistaken for the Best Album Award: Alt-J, Arcade Fire, Jack White, Cage the Elephant and eventual winner St Vincent. While it is fantastic to see such variety and deserved recognition, it is a shame that these albums are sidelined into an arguably lesser category.

A few more problems with the Grammy Awards:
– The categorisation of the Grammy Awards is clearly still a problem. Despite the total number of awards being cut from 109 in 2011 to 78 in 2012, I still feel like I could win (or at least be nominated) in one of the many categories, one day. The Grammy Award for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package goes to Helen from DHL; the Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals goes to Vincent, an excessively fussy florist; and Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance goes to the one person who knows what that is, probably a Sebastian. It provides the complete opposite problem to the farcical BBC Music Awards which offers just 5 awards on the night.
– Another glaring issue with the Grammys is the Americanised nature of it, which is reflected in the fact that country has 4 awards on offer, Christian/Gospel has 5 and American Roots has 7. These are all effectively solely winnable by American Artists. In comparison, Reggae only has one available award. To say the Grammys are western, US or even white-centric is an understatement, but that is a discussion for another day.
– The inconsistencies of the prize awarding also leads to confusion: Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs losing to the Black Keys’ Brothers in the Best Alternative Album category in 2011, but winning Best Album overall. Similarly, in 2013 Mumford and Sons’ Babel won Best Album but lost out in the undeniably lesser Best American Roots Album category.
– Along with the endless list of awards on offer, the constantly changing awards categories (the Best Metal Song award, for example lasted two years), as well as unclear differences between awards (Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance, Record of the Year and Song of the Year) provides problems for artists, academy members and music fans, alike.

When superannuated Luton flute-rock band Jethro Tull caused arguably the biggest Grammy’s upset of all time by claiming the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental in 1988, the category was consequently scrapped. Their fusion of prog/hard-rock and woodwind instruments on Crest of a Knave was favoured over Metallica’s seminal and hotly tipped …And Justice For All. As a result of this controversy and the ensuing criticism faced by the NARAS, the Best Hard Rock Performance and Best Metal Performance categories were born. Almost reflecting the guilt felt by the NARAS, Metallica would go on to win Best Metal Performance in 1989, 1990 and 1991; it was almost as if the category was literally made for them.

metallica
Metallica lost out to flute playing Jethro Tull for 1988 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental

Other notable controversies (to name a few) include:
– Steely Dan winning Album of the Year in 2001 over Radiohead’s Kid A and Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP.
– The Baha Men winning Best Dance Recording in 2001 for Who Let The Dogs Out.
– Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down winning Album of the Year in 1985 ahead of two of the best albums of all time, Purple Rain and Born in the USA.
– Eric Clapton’s Layla Unplugged beating Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit for Best Rock Song in 1993
– The 1970 Album of the Year gong going to Blood, Sweat and Tears for their self-titled album over The Beatles’ Abbey Road.
– In 1967, Eleanor Rigby and Good Vibrations were overlooked for New Vaudeville Band’s Winchester Cathedral for Best Contemporary Rock and Roll Recording.
– Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (rightfully) claimed they robbed Kendrick Lamar of four awards in 2014, most notably for The Heist winning Best Rap Album over Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. NARAS has gone some way to rectify this, nominating Lamar 11 times for this year for his critically acclaimed and politically essential To Pimp a Butterfly.

It is clear that the Grammys come with a lot of issues. Its awards are excessive and confusing, and its credibility is surely declining with the questionable nomination and awarding decisions. I have only scratched the service by looking at the rock category. Obviously rock is disregarded by the NARAS, with (too) much focus going towards how many awards Beyonce is going to win, what Kanye West will or won’t do, and what, if anything Jennifer Lopez is wearing. Ultimately, rock n roll doesn’t need the Grammys. James Bay can have his Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song awards. While recognition from ‘industry experts’ is always nice, a welcome boost to the ego of real rockstars; rock n roll isn’t about the awards. The genre wouldn’t be what it is if it was.