Live Review: FISH, Holmfirth Picturedrome, 18th December 2014

Fish - Holmfirth Picturedrome - 18Dec14
Photo (C) Graeme Blackwell/Skin Back Alley

“Holmfirth! Sorry we’re late!” quips Fish on this cold, wet December evening in the heart of Yorkshire. He is of course referring to the fact that this date was originally meant to be played much earlier in the year, but had to be postponed. It became a recurring theme during the aptly named “Moveable Feast Tour” as illness struck during the course of 2014. The Holmfirth crowd certainly don’t seem to mind though, as they stand rapt through an opening trilogy of “Perfume River”, “Feast Of Consequences” and “Manchmal.”

Accomplished musicians all, Fish’s band immediately impress in the intimate confines of the Picturedrome. Tight knit, yet always flexible and fluid, Robin Boult’s guitar playing sends shivers down the spine on more than one occasion. Steve Vantsis’ bass is perfectly pitched and brilliantly unfussy. These men have the warm and calm air of people who know their craft intimately and have nothing to prove, yet never take their audience for granted. The big man himself’s voice is in equally fine fettle, showing no obvious signs of the surgeries and illnesses that have kept him off the road and out of the studio in the recent past.

There is something to be said for music of an epic scale being played in a smaller setting. Occasionally during Fish’s set, and in its more synth-heavy moments, one is minded to think of cosmically minded musicians such as Pink Floyd. But where it would be possible to argue that Floyd’s brilliance is occasionally lost in the cavernous enormo-domes of the world, Fish and Co’s compositions are never swamped by their surroundings.

A perfect example would be the central section of tonight’s gig, ostensibly a showcase of the ‘High Wood’ suite at the heart of Fish’s most recent album, A Feast Of Consequences. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I won’t speak much for a while after this” as he tells the story of his grandfathers’ involvement in the 1914-18 war and some of the extraordinary coincidences that have since echoed through his own life and inspired the music and lyrics.

What follows is simply breathtaking, the band making their way through “High Wood”, “Crucifix Corner”, “The Gathering”, “Thistle Alley” and “The Leaving” with the sort of effortless simplicity that only comes from years of hard graft and the development of finely honed skills. Gavin Griffiths on drums and John Beck on keys come in to their own during the suite, providing both subtle texture and explosive power as the songs demand. It feels like some of Fish’s most inspired and brilliant music, and it’s delivered by a peerless band of musical brothers.

Fish himself made known before this tour began that he had every intention of mixing up new material with some old favourites, acknowledging: “There’s no point in playing the entire new album live on a night as the fans want to enjoy themselves as well as discover what I have been up to for the last few years… I think it’s going to be really refreshing and I know we will be kept on our toes on the stage every night!”

Always true to his word, Fish and his fellow colleagues then power through renditions of Marillion’s “Slàinte Mhath” and solo track “Big Wedge”, bringing a welcome change of pace and keeping the audience enthralled. Arguably the evening’s most intimate highlight then follows as, introducing the track with thoughts on public disenfranchisement and political engagement, the opening bars of “Vigil” ring out through the old theatre building. As the music develops, Fish comes to the front of the stage, clambers over the barrier and walks in to the crowd, shaking the hands of everyone he passes and greeting them with warm smiles. He keeps on until he is standing in the middle of the hall and delivers the song just inches from his crowd’s faces, this reviewer included.

A spontaneous moment or carefully crafted with military precision? It really doesn’t matter. The physical proximity and warm intimacy chime perfectly with the song’s lyric: “Just quieten down for a voice in the crowd / I get so confused and I don’t understand / I know you feel the same way / You’ve always wanted to say / But you don’t get the chance / Just a voice in the crowd.” Live rock music simply doesn’t get any better.

“Heart Of Lothian” and encores of “Incubus”, “Blind To The Beautiful” and “The Company” later, and the Yorkshire faithful shuffle out in to the rain soaked night, grins fixed firmly on faces and chatter rising high in to the air. This is one Fish that it’s been well worth waiting to catch.

Fish played:

“Perfume River”
“Feast of Consequences”
“Arc of the Curve”
“High Wood”
“Crucifix Corner”
“The Gathering”
“Thistle Alley”
“The Leaving”
“Slàinte Mhath” (Marillion)
“Big Wedge”
“Heart of Lothian” (Marillion)
Encore: “Incubus” (Marillion)
Encore 2: “Blind to the Beautiful”, “The Company”

Find out more about Fish’s current work and live dates at the official Fishheads Club website.

You can watch Fish’s performance of “Thistle Alley” recorded live in Paris below:

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Watch! Then Thickens release video for new single, “Worms”

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Lancashire lo-fi rockers Then Thickens have released a video for their song, “Worms.”

Taken from the band’s brilliant album, Death Cap At Anglezarke, the single is available from iTunes and comes with that most rare of beasts in today’s digital world, a B-Side. The bonus track takes the form of an older song, “Blood In The River Ribble.”

You can watch the official video for “Worms” below:

Read our album review of Death Cap At Anglezarke here, and check out our live review of the band playing at The Hop, Wakefield, here.

Skin Back Alley had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the guys ahead of their Wakefield show, and you can read what the band had to say here.

Death Cap At Anglezarke, and new single “Worms”, are both out now on Hatch Records.

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Live Review: Louise Distras, Shepherds Bush Empire, 27th July 2014


Once upon a time there was a girl called Louise. Louise lived in a town in Yorkshire and she was extremely passionate about her music. She practiced playing the guitar every hour of the day.

One day, when Louise was a teenager, her mother decided to teach her a lesson about the world; how harsh it could be, and how Louise needed to find something more constructive to do with her life. She took Louise’s guitar and, raising it above her head, smashed it into a million pieces.

Louise’s mother did teach her daughter a lesson that day, but little did she know that it wasn’t the one that she had intended…

Fast forward to the present day, and here is Louise Distras in all her zealous ectasy, standing tall in front of the 2,000 strong assembled throng at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire. A feint and nervous introduction is not for her; as she steps toward the mic, she lets rip with a scream worthy of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” era Roger Daltrey, and soon all eyes are on the stage.

The blood, sweat and tears, born of years of graft and sheer determination, erupt as Distras throws herself full-force into “Stand Strong Together”, the opening track from her debut album Dreams From The Factory Floor. “They put us down in every way, it only makes us stronger every single day… Born original loyal and true, waging war on the chosen few.” On this form, the chosen few had better watch out, because it’s not a war that they are about to win.

20140727_200447-001As the song draws to a close, any thoughts that the audience may have had of talking or drinking through Distras’ set (some little 1970’s NYC band called Television appear to be the main draw of the night!) are vanquished, and a moment of stunned silence is followed very quickly with heartfelt and appreciative applause.

The raging fire of “No Mercy” follows, and you can almost feel Distras’ throat tearing itself apart as she screams “No mercy! Forgive me! Pray for me! Forgive me!” during the song’s coda. This time around the applause is noticeably louder, but Louise is only just warming up.

Next up is “Love Me The Way I Am.” The song’s message is one of self-care and self-belief; of coming to terms with yourself and who you are, and hoping that others will do the same. The lyric has an intimate and personal focus, as it tells the story of a friend of Distras’ who had attempted suicide before coming out. Fortunately the friend pulled through the darkest of times, and the song is just one powerful result of their survival.

Perhaps a surprise for some then comes sharply in to focus, as Louise recites the title track from her album, a prose poem that examines the power of dreams, and explores in detail an extraordinary and hard lesson learned. Already a moving moment on record, it resonantes beautifully at the Empire when, as Distras recites the line “They say that dreams never come true,” she lifts her eyes skyward, spreads her arms wide and motions to the room around her. The briefest of pauses to let it sink in, and then here’s the knockout punch: “Well I say that they do.”

It’s an impassioned and spiky blast through “People of The Abyss” and “Story Is Over”, before Louise is recalling in person that moment of wanton destruction on the part of her mum. Intended to stamp out the musical fire in Distras’ belly, as Louise stands strong and rightly proud on stage in London, it’s plain that it had quite the opposite effect. “I’ll show you. One day, I’ll show you.” And tonight, and on many other nights just like it, she has.

20140727_200453-001Another nod to a colourful past comes in “Shades Of Hate”, with it’s tales of Distras’ hometown of Wakefield and its infamous Westgate run, where “…the girls are in their Friday best and the men are wearing anger.” It has sections of the audience chanting the traditional refrain of God’s own county: “Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!” It’s not quite as poetic as Louise’s song, but it’ll do nicely, thank you very much.

Eventually, as they generally must, all good things come to an end; but what an end. Before her final song, Distras points in to the crowd and says “This song is for you. And you. And you.” With each “…you” Louise singles out the individual women in the audience, fixing them with her own eyes and an empowering sense of solidarity. “I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of being told how I should feel about myself; about my body. All so big corporations can sell us products to try and make us feel better about ourselves.” And then comes the vivid imagery of “The Hand You Hold.”

“Advertising man hammers nails into my head, crucifies these children before they’re born and bred.” Well bugger me if Distras isn’t helping to give every single one of them a fighting chance.

I’m telling you now folks, in these times of turmoil – of increasing social and civil unrest – the questing power of punk is alive and well, and its name is Louise Distras.


Louise Distras played:

“Stand Strong Together”
“No Mercy”
“Love Me the Way I Am”
“Dreams From The Factory Floor”
“People of The Abyss”
“Story Is Over”
“Shades of Hate”
“Black and Blue”
“The Hand You Hold”

Louise Distras Dreams From The Factory FloorDreams From The Factory Floor is out now and you can buy it from Louise’s official merch store, Amazon and Google Play.

Visit Louise Distras’ official website here. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

You can read Skin Back Alley’s 5/5 review of Dreams From The Factory Floor here.

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Live Review: Nine Inch Nails, Manchester Arena, 25th May 2014

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Nine Inch Nails’ music has always seemed like the soundtrack to a dystopian nightmare world full of pre and post-millenial angst, the ‘sturm und drang’ of a failing global economy based on a model of mass production, and the sinister and quiet creep of the oncoming digital age.

Perhaps with the exception of the original master of Pretty Hate Machine, which has the unmistakable sound of it’s late 80’s inception, all of Trent Reznor’s albums as NIN sound timeless, and every single one of them remains prescient, challenging and highly relevant.

Before this leg of NIN’s tour began, naysayers were being needlessly critical of Reznor’s decision to play the larger arenas of the world. Why would an ‘alternative’ industrial rock band play venues associated with a mindset of corporate capitalism; atmosphere-free domes more suited to sporting events?

Clearly those naysayers have never been to a Nine Inch Nails arena performance.

Reznor had promised that NIN’s aim with these dates was to deliver a more “low key” and “agressive” show with just a four piece band, rather than the more elaborate eight piece band that had been exploring new material from the Hesitation Marks album during previous dates. And that’s precisely what he and his band mates do at the Phones4U Arena in Manchester.

NIN 005From the opening one-two of “Me I’m Not” and “Copy of A”, the 20 song show doesn’t let up across a career spanning set incorporating material from the entirety of the band’s 25 year history. In fact, just four songs from last year’s new album make an appearance.

The sheer size of “1,000,000”, “Letting You”, “March of the Pigs” and “Piggy” carry the show forward on the strength of their enormous shoulders, each and every song filling the cavernous arena and whipping the thousands strong crowd into a frenzy. The songs are accompanied by a spectacular visual installation, including an impressive lighting rig and a rear screen for video projection that lowers and raises at strategic points to meet the demands of each piece of music.

The stage proves to be a dynamic entity then, and one that allows Reznor and his crack team of multi-instrumentalists to navigate it at will as it expands and contracts. Ilan Rubin proves an astonishing and powerful force behind the live acoustic drum kit as it appears for those songs that require it’s presence, and both Alessandro Cortini and Robin Finck seem as adept at keyboards and electronics as they do at their respective six stringers.

Music from the band’s extensive back catalogue continues unabated until mid-way through the set when The Downward Spiral classic “Closer” makes it’s appearance. The assembled throng sing along to the now notorious lyrics, prompting Trent Reznor’s only between-song banter of the hour and three-quarters the band play. “Thank you”, he says succinctly.

Manchester is then treated to a Hesitation Marks trilogy, with “Find My Way”, “Disappointed” and “Came Back Haunted” following each other, one after the other. Despite the new album’s laser focus on electronics over guitars, the new songs are greeted with rapture, feel just as powerful as their predecessors, and don’t seem at all out of place in the running order.

NIN 004It’s clear that the show’s sound engineers have done their job extremely well, too, as the quality of the sound within the arena is remarkably strong, helping the batch of songs that follow build upon the palpable atmosphere of excitement and reverie, and nail shut the coffin on those pre-tour cranks. “How do you take a big place designed for sports shows and find a way to turn it into something intimate and interesting?”, asked Reznor when these tour dates were announced. “That’s a question we’re constantly trying to deal with. And, I think we’re quite successful at it right now.” On this show’s evidence, damn straight they are.

Reznor’s assertion is a view that doesn’t fade as the concert builds to the final song of the main set, debut album Pretty Hate Machine’s colossal “Head Like A Hole.” It’s five minutes of relentless energy assault the crowd in the best possible way, leaving one gig-goer audibly screaming her love for the band and pleading for more. Nine Inch Nails’ logo is now writ large on the stage’s screen, signalling the end of proceedings. But the fact that the house lights don’t yet come up is telling.

Just a few minutes later, the arena is bathed in golden light, the band silhouetted against a firey backdrop projected on to the screen behind them. The brooding menace of “The Day The World Went Away” builds in the arena’s PA, and the audience are once again vocal in their appreciation and applause.

The only question that remains then, is “Will they or won’t they?” The answer is that they will, and against a rear projection of poisonous reptiles, predatory insects and the horrors of war inflicted upon the human race by our own kind, Reznor and Co. work through a quietly tense, powerful and moving rendition of “Hurt.”

If there is a band in the world more capable than Nine Inch Nails of taking a venue the size of the Phones4U Arena, and filling every inch of it with the overwhelming force and emotional power of their music, then we are yet to find them. Their newly stripped back set-up is at once visually arresting, sonically staggering and, as yet, unmatched. The show is another fine example of why Trent Reznor’s music has endured for a quarter of a century, and will no doubt endure for a considerable time to come.

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Nine Inch Nails played:
“Me, I’m Not”
“Copy of A”
“Letting You”
“March of the Pigs”
“Gave Up”
“Sanctified” (with Sunspots riff)
“Find My Way”
“Came Back Haunted”
“The Great Destroyer”
“The Hand That Feeds”
“Head Like a Hole”

“The Day the World Went Away”

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Live Review: The Wildhearts, Manchester Academy, 10th April

The Wildhearts - Manchester Academy April 2014

There are many musicians in the world today who claim to be the hardest working in rock. Many others, too, claim to be geniuses. The fact that Ginger Wildheart doesn’t claim to be either – yet may well qualify to be both – makes him all the more worthy of the titles.

He appears for the first time this evening at Manchester Academy in a pair of shades as part of one of his many projects, Hey!Hello!, a relatively incognito presence stage-right. Despite Ginger’s legendary status for the fans out-front, it makes absolute sense that Victoria Liedtke takes centre stage for the set, as her unending enthusiasm and enigmatic way with words and a melody soon engage the crowd and have them cheering, pogoing and baying for the band’s brand of upbeat, tune-centric rock n’ roll. A majority of the group’s eponymous debut album gets an energetic airing during the 30 minutes they’re on stage. It’s a fine opening and sets the scene for the rest of what proves to be a memorable night.

On UK shores, Von Hertzen Brothers are still a relatively unknown quantity. After their frankly astounding 40 minute set tonight, however, the Finnish siblings will no doubt have a few hundred more converts for their cause. Their’s is a particular brand of rock that somehow wouldn’t seem out of place on classic rock, prog or heavy metal bills. Try to imagine Rage Against The Machine crossed with Pink Floyd, and somehow filtered through the lens of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Tracks such as ‘Flowers and Rust’, ‘Insomniac’ and ‘Coming Home’ from their recent Nine Lives album are delivered with commitment, passion and – almost – show-stealing style. They deserve to be heard.

But let’s not be disingenuous. The vast majority of the crowd are here to see one band, and if there’s any band who could deliver the goods following the opening acts’ two brilliant performances, it’s The Wildhearts.

Their’s is a well-told and familiar story to a hardcore group of fans who have remained loyal to Ginger and Co. over the last 20 years or so. Bursting on to the scene in the early 90’s with a very British brand of lyrical wit and hugely melodic, guitar-centric, glam-tinged punk rock, they soon built a rabid fan-base, managed to sell enough to sneak in to the charts, and then somehow fell from favour amidst tales of difficult relationships with press, record labels, drugs and each other.

The atmosphere in the Academy shifts tangibly up a gear as Ginger, CJ, Ritch and Scott amble on to stage, plug in and immediately set about the intro of old-school fan favourite ‘Nothing Ever Changes But The Shoes.’ A cheer goes up as the crowd recognise the song, and a triumphant set begins.

It’s obvious everyone here knows every word to every song, the audience providing on-tap gang-chant vocals for the likes of ‘TV Tan,’ ‘Nita Nitro’ and ‘Caffeine Bomb.’

“Thank you Manchester, it’s nice to get a positive audience reaction. It’s been a while!,” quips Ginger after the barrage of opening tracks that sees their public raising hands and playing air guitar to song after song after song. It’s possibly a knowing reference to early reports from the preceding two gigs in Bristol and Wolverhampton that suggested sound problems and a lukewarm reaction.

A mix of better and lesser known songs keeps coming as the night draws on: ‘Someone That Won’t Let Me Go,’ ‘I Wanna Go Where The People Go,’ ‘Tim Smith,’ ‘Junkenstein,’ ‘The Jackson Whites’ and ‘Chutzpah!’ all get outings.

Ginger regularly checks with the crowd, “Is it okay if we play some stuff that WE like?,” before cranking out b-sides and more obscure album tracks. What could be construed as a clever artist’s conceit – getting the audience to be complicit in indulging the band’s need to play what they want to play, rather than what the audience may want or expect – soon proves to be an unnecessary tool, if that’s what it is. Every single song is met with nothing but love, rapture and mass sing-a-longs.

Scott takes lead vocals for a rendition of ‘The Only One’ that he dedicates to his wife, apparently watching from the wings on her first trip to the UK, and CJ gets a shot too, delivering an impassioned cover of Helmet’s ‘Unsung.’

The grins on both audience and band faces alike have just been growing and growing as the 11:00pm curfew draws nigh, but as Ginger announces that they still have time for two more songs, ‘You Took The Sunshine From New York’ and stone-cold classic ’29 x The Pain’ metaphorically destroy what is left of the Academy’s PA.

“Thank you, Manchester, we needed this,” says Ginger, visibly beaming.

So did we, Ginger. So did we.

The Wildhearts Strike Back 2014 UK Tour with Von Hertzen Brothers and Hey!Hello! continues until the 17th April, with dates as follows: 12th April @ Nottingham Rock City, 13th April @ Newcastle O2 Academy, 14th April @ Glasgow O2 ABC, 16th April @ Cambridge Junction and 17th April @ London Electric Ballroom.

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