Sundara Karma at the O2 Institute, Birmingham – 11.02.2017

One day after the conclusion of their support of Two Door Cinema Club, Sundara Karma comfortably shake off the Best Supporting Cast shackles, proving to be more than capable of a rapturous headline show.

The band emerged on the O2 Institute stage to Gwen Stefani’s Hollaback Girl; presumably the foursome had forgotten their entrance music and the only CD at their disposal was NOW 62*. Diving straight in with album opener A Young Understanding, the band certainly showed they had this as the youthful crowd swayed, crushed, moshed and bounced energetically over the next seventy minutes.
*(check it, it’s right)

On their first major headline tour, the glamorous Reading outfit hoped to make this first night a spectacle, dressed to impress, as though they had walked through a Salvation Army shop covered in Velcro; flares, blouses and long hair to boot. Admittedly they scored an own-goal by deciding to deploy large multi-coloured balloons, bought for a giants’ birthday party. They not only disrupted the bands’ concentration (knocking over mic stands, bumping pedals) but scared this reviewer sh*tless, as spontaneous balloon pops were less than complimentary additions to the set.

That complaint out of the way, the exciting opening was followed by latest single, the anthemic Flame. It perfectly demonstrated why they had to upgrade venues from The Rainbow to Birmingham’s O2 Institute, such was the demand for the show. Mark my words they have a sound fit for stadiums, so don’t expect to see them in 2,000 capacity venues for too much longer.

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Sundara Karma fully showcased their debut album, the cynically named Youth is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect. This cynic was very impressed by this strong first effort, one of the best albums of 2017 so far (admittedly we are one month and 14 days into 2017 at the time of writing). However one song I find less impressive is She Said, a blatant Circa Waves rip-off. One Circa Waves is more than enough, fellas.

Ally Baty on lead guitar, Haydn Evans on drums and Dom Cordell on bass all contribute towards Sundara Karma’s tight indie-pop sound, but it is frontman Oscar Pollock providing the star quality. He proved this on Vivienne, losing his guitar before losing himself amongst the crowd during this epic love number. A crowd-surf-gone-wrong turned into Pollock navigating his way around a packed dancefloor back to the stage as though he were a religious icon being mobbed by adoring followers. All the while effortlessly maintaining his grace and poise.

The band closed the main set with their ‘Wonderwall’, Happy Family. A hymn-like harmony over a cheery guitar string plucking intro descends into Pollock desperately proclaiming anything but a happy family.

Swiftly re-emerging for an encore, Sundara Karma unleashed a Luther Vandross-shaped surprise with a cover of his disco classic, Never Too Much. Closing the set in fine fashion (unlike the garments on show), was Loveblood, one of the biggest indie singles of 2016. It’s a song that received much Radio 1 airplay and propelled the band through a stratospheric rise in recent months. Always a strong live act, now with an album under their belt, Sundara Karma prove why they are currently the hottest property on the up-and-coming British indie-rock scene.

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.

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