The Summer of Love: 50 Years On

It’s been fifty years since Jimi Hendrix set alight to his Fender Stratocaster at Monterey; fifty years since the Beatles released their seminal and since unmatched Sgt Pepper; fifty years since the peak of hippie-dom, the Summer of Love. So, how does society compare? Has society changed? Surely not.

A post-Brexit, President Trump-ruling apocalyptic world mirrors that of a 1960s Cold War on the brink of catastrophe. Discontent with Vietnam corresponds with present day calls of ‘Wenger Out’. The Beat Generation has become the Dab Generation. Rather than tuning in and dropping out to Timothy Leary, we are tuning into a bunch of sleeve-tattoo-stained neanderthals on MTV discussing who did who in Tiger Tiger the previous night. Rather than being everyone’s man, we are now everyone’s mate, sporting not curly locks but a sick ‘fade’. We have substituted chasing the magic dragon for the futile task of searching for imaginary Pokemon. LSD trips to Jefferson Airplane or the Grateful Dead, make way for MDMA dropping to Diplo and Deadmau5.

In 1967, arguably the greatest album to grace the shelves of HMV was released, in the form of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Fast-forward to 2017, we have had solo material from every member of our blessed generations famous five, One Direction. 50 years ago, just as Hendrix hypnotized hippies with his pyrotechnics, Otis Redding marched out of obscurity and into the hearts of an interracial audience at Monterey. In two half hour performances, questions were seriously asked of the state of civil rights in the US.

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The Monterey Pop Festival was a marriage of musical genres, a spiritual encounter between the Los Angeles and San Francisco hippy heartlands. It was symbolic of the Summer of Love. Coachella is symbolic of all that’s wrong with modern society. Monterey represented the pinnacle of the hippy and counterculture movements, before its consequent downfall with Altamont and the Manson family. Does this mean veganism will actually be the next murderous cult?

Nevertheless, let us celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Jump aboard the magic bus I just ordered on Uber. My virtual stylist on ASOS tells me round glasses are back in. And get your fix of flower power; you don’t even need to physically wear flowers in your hair, technology does it for you. Scott McKenzie’s era defining San Francisco ‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear the flowers in your hair’, still applies, just requires subtle tweaking:
‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to apply the Snapchat flower crown filter to your hair’.

Kasabian at the O2 Academy Birmingham – 13.04.2017

Welcome return for Comeback Kids Kasabian

Mixing a portion of indie, a pinch of electronica and a spoonful of football hooliganism, Kasabian have cemented their place as one of Britain’s most riotous live acts. As such, tickets for such an exclusive (by their standards) event were as hard to come by as an Arsene Wenger loyalist.

You’re In Love With A Psycho opened proceedings and initiated the party. The first of three new songs played on the night, while it perhaps didn’t suit its set opening slot, it will undoubtedly be a staple of Kasabian sets for years to come.

Bumblebee followed. Carnage ensued.

But for frontman Tom Meighan blowing kisses to the crowd there was no tenderness amongst the gig-goers as Underdog continued the chaos in the audience. Often favouring recognizable transitions between songs (see Black Skinhead and Praise You) the lads from Leicester chose Daft Punk’s Around The World to exquisitely segue out of Shoot the Runner and into Eez-Eh.

With Kasabian’s upcoming, sixth effort, For Crying Out Loud, imminent (May 5th), Serge, Tom and co. would be forgiven for showcasing the album in its entirety. However, we were treated to just three new tracks, as Comeback Kid and Bless This Acid House made up the Holy Trinity of pre-release offerings. Devoid of the 48:13 narcissism, fans will be pleased to hear that the new album still has the sort of ridiculous lyricism that made 48:13 so… fun(?).
– ‘Sasquatch in a bin bag, Sasquatch in a bin bag’ (Comeback Kid, Verse 2, Lines 1 & 2)
– ‘I’m like the taste of macaroni on a seafood stick, And you got me switched on, baby, like electric eel’ (You’re in Love with a Psycho, Verse 1, Lines 4 & 5).
I could go on.

2014’s groovy electronic treat, Treat, proved the most danceable number of the evening. The instrumental section saw guitarist Sergio Pizzorno scale the venue, eyes ablaze, channeling his inner Ibiza DJ, dictating festivities from the balcony. With chants of ‘Sergio, Sergio’ greeting Serge’s return to the stage you can understand why he would later declare this to be one of Kasabian’s ‘best ever gigs’.

Never room for a timid audience member at a Kasabian gig, throughout, Meighan led the way, showcasing the work of his trips to the Mick Jagger School of Questionable Dancing. A notable highlight being his unprecedented ‘air violining’ during Stevie, that would not look out of place at a London Philharmonic Orchestra Christmas party.

Indeed, playing such an intimate tour does come with snags. The usually colossal Club Foot and Vlad The Impaler sounding somewhat off, with the production struggling to contain the band’s stadium-sized sound. Like having a Big Mac but minus the gherkins, something small was missing. However, no such problems followed with LSF, as the crowd’s chorus echoes begged the band back on stage for an encore.

A conclusion of Fire saw the group finish in a blaze of glory. It didn’t take much of the 90-minute set to realise it, but Kasabian are stalwarts of the largest of stages, witnessing them in such a small venue was truly a privilege. Wishing the crowd a ‘Happy f*cking Easter’ on their way off stage, Tom, Serge and the Kasabian posse ensured the best possible start to the Easter weekend for 3,000 fans.

 Bear’s Den at the Hammersmith Apollo – 05.04.2017

On home turf, Bear’s Den showcase their folk-rooted sounds at a sold out Hammersmith Apollo.

Brief and honourable mention to enigmatic support act Seramic. With his abundance of soul and questionable dance moves, he and his eclectic band put on an almost show-stealing funk-filled display. If Jack Garratt and D’Angelo somehow had a lovechild that lovechild would be Seramic. Or if Chet Faker was a Russian doll, Seramic would be one of the pieces inside.

However, the night belonged to Bear’s Den. Recently reduced to two hairy mammals, Andrew Davie and Kevin Jones, but surrounded by four talented multi-instrumentalists, they utilized atmospheric 2016 album, Red Earth & Pouring Rain as the gigs’ centre-piece. With its brooding electric feel filling the vast venue, the title track was an apt opener, and songs like Emeralds and Auld Wives entrancingly emanated throughout the Eventim Apollo.

The band aired December’s stand-alone single, Berlin, and Bear’s Den loyalists will welcome the return to the sound of superb debut, Islands, as a banjo-orientated number. Largely neglected on Red Earth & Pouring Rain, dropped completely by folk titans Mumford & Sons for their most recent effort, the pleasurable plucking on Berlin, Isaac and New Jerusalem prove it’s an instrument not limited to buck-toothed, tobacco-chewing, dungaree-sporting hillbillies utilizing their extra fingers to best effect.

Frontman, Davie’s lyrics and honest vocals give the impression that he’s both a hopeless romantic and that he’s had his heart ripped out of his chest, put through a shredder and then fed to ravenous dogs, such are the tragic words that are even more heartbreaking when heard in person. This allows emotionally-charged sing-a-longs to Above the Clouds of Pompeii and Stubborn Beast, and builds to a riotous set-stealing When You Break. While we are treated to a fair share of the new album, it’s this material from Islands that is best received by the London crowd.

Davie was visibly overwhelmed by the deafening ovation that welcomed the band back onto the stage for their encore. Lost for words, a stripped-back rendition of Bad Blood minus microphones completely reduced the 5,000 strong crowd to silence. A rousing finale of very first single, the now-anthemic Agape, concluded a triumphant evening before the Bear’s retreated into hibernation, ending their biggest British tour to date.

I spoke to Bear’s Den back in November, you can hear that interview and see that awful photo here:

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.

Two Door Cinema Club at the O2 Academy Birmingham – 24.01.2017

In this, the first show of their sell out UK tour, the indie-pop stalwarts provide a night of nostalgia.

With Two Door Cinema Club’s first British tour for four years, in support of Gameshow, their first album for four years, it comes as a surprise – albeit a nice one – that they opt against ramming new material down our throats. The opening four numbers all come from debut album, Tourist History. Full of adolescent anthems, they unleash Cigarettes in the Theatre, Undercover Martyn, Do You Want It All? and This Is the Life; beginning at breakneck speed. In fact, all of this seminal indie-pop album is showcased bar You’re Not Stubborn. As a result, the show is relentless, as the nature of Two Door songs don’t allow for respite. Their shows should come with hazard warning, advising bringing a waterproof jacket, or a towel, such is the intense perspiration amongst the crowd.

The Chris Martin-current-midlife-crisis-dirge-inspired, nightmarish-Avicci-club-like, actually Madeon-produced Changing of the Seasons follows. If Tourist History is the Chris Tarrant or Takeshi’s Castle of albums, then the Changing of the Seasons EP is more Dale Winton’s fake tan or the 2016 remake of the Crystal Maze. Certainly proving to be the musical Weakest Link of the night.

On the subject of Gameshows, the Northern Irish outfit have followed The 1975 down the wondrously colourful (and evidently fruitful) alley of disco with their 2016 album Gameshow. Bad Decisions, an album highlight, is similarly a live stand out from the new album, as primitive pogoing turned to groovier grinding. The closest thing to a rest we would be gifted all night. Frontman Alex Trimble clearly took whatever post-AM Alex Turner has been taking. He occasionally relinquishes his guitar and swaggers around stage, scaling new vocal heights on the falsetto-driven Je Viens De La.

Not too much was said by the band throughout the hour and a half set, asides from showing genuine gratitude to the crowd. Instead the instruments did the talking as impressive lead guitarist, Sam Halliday, made his guitar sing with the instantly recognizable delicate finger picking and furious friction-inducing strumming sounds. Understated and perhaps underestimated, Halliday is a modern day guitar hero of British indie, just see futuristic I Can Talk and first ever single Something Good Can Work. First started on MySpace ten years ago, most of the crowd wouldn’t have remembered this release as, to my surprise, the crowd was full of excitable youths. This as opposed to being surrounded by similar-aged adults seeking to recapture our secondary school, long hair-swishing, inbetweener, indie kid heyday, when the only worries we had were if the girl you liked poked you back on Facebook and avoiding detentions from weary teachers who didn’t find phallic-shaped graffiti on textbooks amusing. A form of escapism from the endless war waged against dissertations, grad jobs and general adult life that I currently live. What is evident then, is that Two Door’s music still resonates with teenagers as it did with me ten years ago. From the height of my high horse everyone seemed to have a great time, even if it was a school night, after the ten o’clock curfew, in the middle of GCSE mock season.

The main set ends with a rousing rendition of Sun from 2012’s Beacon. As the horns escalate, serotonin levels rise to new heights. Two Door Cinema Club are THE feel good indie-pop band that carry great sentimentality for so many. Finishing with What You Know, those with any energy left leave everything on the O2 Academy dancefloor. And if I know anything, Two Door Cinema Club’s return is certainly a welcome one, definitely an enjoyable one and undoubtedly a sweaty one.

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.