Blog

feederportrait

Feeder – O2 Birmingham Institute

With bands struggling to last much beyond a third album today, it’s refreshing to see a seasoned band such as Feeder still packing out venues and connecting with an audience that have generally aged with them.

Having taken a four-year hiatus following the fairly mediocre reaction to eighth studio album ‘Generation Freakshow’, Grant Nicholas and fellow long-standing member, Taka Hirose, strutted on stage to a rapturous welcome, allaying any fears that any ‘Feeder-fatigue had developed. Beginning with a new track – ‘Another Day on Earth’ – the song felt as unimaginative as its title. The majority of tunes played off their latest LP ‘All Bright Electric’ were a little vague lyrically and felt as if they were Feeder-by-numbers.

The show shifted up a gear when they played the gloriously poppy ‘Pushing the Senses’, inciting the sort of physical explosion in the crowd that Feeder gigs were often notorious for. The irritatingly catchy ‘Lost and Found’ was tossed out as a reminder of how Feeder have often marred albums with novelty rock songs.

Conversely, when they get it right, Feeder possess a collection of euphoric rock songs full of great depth and soaring melodies. 1997 single ‘High’ is a Feeder benchmark, and tonight was no different. The song resonating even more after Nicholas – somewhat uncharacteristically – introduced the song with an articulate polemic about the destruction of the music industry and how it was an  easier and more successful time to be in a band back in the 1990s. A simple but effective point as the fragmentation of music in the last decade has seen music diminish as a highly-valued art form.

The middle of the set felt a tad plodding and featured the gentile ‘Tender’ and newbie ‘Paperweight’, a pair of songs that witnessed the audience’s focus drift. However, football-style chanting of “Feedeeer” sparked a smiles from the band and gave credence to the hardcore element of fans who have followed the band since the days of the tragically departed former drummer Jon Lee, who committed suicide over 14 years ago. The interaction between band and audience was excellent throughout.

‘Come Back Around’ increased the tempo and made a welcome return to the setlist, having been omitted from their last tour. It was start of a top-heavy hit-laden final chapter of the set – albeit blighted by excessive feedback that spoilt the turbo-charged ‘Insomnia’ and new song ‘Infrared-Ultraviolet’. Not that the crowd seemed to mind, as signature tune ‘Buck Rogers’ brought the house down before a double-whammy of ‘Seven Days in the Sun’ and ‘Just a Day’ saw Feeder climax on a high. At their best, Feeder can be joyous, but their flaws were a little too evident to suggest this was a classic.



The Subways – The Institute Birmingham

On the opening night of their UK tour, promoting their eponymously titled new album, The Subways have a surprise in store from the outset as drummer Josh Morgan is beating the skins again after a recent break due to illness.

With the original triumvirate restored, they waste no time in instigating intense moshpit action by playing old favourite ‘We Don’t Need Money to Have a Good Time’, a nostalgic ode for many in this crowd who would probably yearn for a return to summer nights as a teenager, when you could chill in a park until dusk and beyond.

The Subways as well as marking their new album are keen to reflect on the tenth anniversary of their spunky debut, ‘Young for Eternity’, a much hyped record on release but only created enough ripples in the charts to ensure they build a solid fanbase as opposed to hitting the major leagues. I also believe that because the template for future albums adopted a similar path, it’s hard to differentiate between their material in terms of standard. Four albums of affable pop-rock keeps the core fans entertained but an attempt to diversify might have led to a shift in success and critical acclaim.

However, they charge through songs with such gusto and intensity, the crowd aren’t overly concerned by the set not delivering any leftfield tunes, or rarely mixing up the tempo. It’s a case of sticking to a tried and tested formula: songs with simplistic melodies, banal lyrics but triggers collective bouncing and jostling throughout.

Signature hit ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Queen is played mid-set; a suggestion in the band’s confidence in their newer material is how many of their better known songs are played early. It’s an effective ploy as it ushers in crowd engagement early and this shows no sign of abating.

When it comes to lists such as ‘The Greatest Songs of All Time’ and ‘The Greatest Albums Ever’, The Subways are going to be struggling to make the longlist, but in the category of “throwing a rock ‘n’ roll party”, The Subways are in the upper echelons. After all, it only cost sixteen quid to have a good time. And closing with ‘It’s a Party’ suggests they would be in accordance with that viewpoint.



Idlewild – The Institute Birmingham

Reunions tend to either be a cash-in on past glories, fun but lacking genuine validity, or they can be an opportunity to showcase an evolution within the band as well as providing a timely reminder of the bands’ past. Idlewild, who have reconvened after a self-imposed five-year hiatus, definitely fall into the latter category.

From the outset of their show at The Institute, the power-pop of ‘Nothing We Can Do About It’ indicates Idlewild have expanded their instrumental repertoire, adding multi-instrumentalists, Lucci Rossi, Hannah Fisher and Andrew Mitchell, to their original three founder members. It facilitates a chance to rework older tracks, a fact reflected on the band’s biggest hit, ‘You Held the World in Your Arms’, which has morphed into sounding like folk-tinged euphoria. Next, they seamlessly move into a punchier version of newbie ‘Collect Yourself’, offering guitarist Rod Jones an opportunity to exhibit his full arsenal.

After the crunching, spiky old favourite ‘Little Discourage’ we get treated to the vocal delicacies of singer, Roddy Woomble, who, even approaching forty, remains svelte and hits the harmonies with as much beauty as ever, especially on the elegiac new song ‘Every Little Means Trust’. ‘Live in a Hiding Place’ and ‘Love Steals Us from Loneliness’ only add to the feel good factor permeating the room.

Midway through the set and Idlewild shift the tempo up a gear, harking back to their punk roots, they play early single ‘Film for the Future’ with machine-like precision before segueing into a snarling, nasty ‘Captain’, leading to the evenings first sings of moshpit carnage. A self-declared rock medley to remind the audience that Idlewild haven’t forgotten their earlier incarnation as a post-hard-core/punk group, although representation of this period was a little sparse given the set’s length of 22 tracks.

‘Roseability’ and ‘American English’ are sung with soaring grandeur by band and crowd, before closing with ‘utopia’, a new song that underlines the rich depth of Idlewild’s current sound.

The band return for a four-track encore, hitting a cacophonous peak with the turbo-charged blast of ‘Modern Way of Letting Go’, inciting a full scale circle pit that took no prisoners. And, in keeping with the evening’s varied tone, they close the set with the plaintive melancholy of ‘In Remote Part/Scottish Fiction.

Idlewild’s career is a fascinating one as they have managed, in a way Oasis didn’t, to evolve their sound and adapt to personnel changes, commercial fluctuations and a changing musical climate. This return not only underlined the strong back catalogue they’ve assembled over two decades, but showcased a band who have discovered their most complete and diverse sound to date. This was a band revitalised by a break, not intent on recapturing their past.



Idlewild: A New Chapter

After calling an indefinite hiatus in 2010, Idlewild remerged last month with their first album in five years, ‘Everything Ever Written’, a collection of songs they’ve recorded in the last couple of years, on both sides of the Atlantic. The recording process saw two new members, Luciano Rossi and Andrew Mitchell (not the ‘Plebgate’ one), complement the three original founding fathers of singer Roddy Woomble, guitarist Rod Jones and drummer Colin Newton. As a result, Idlewild’s new material sounds more complete than previous offerings.

During their sabbatical, the original trio ploughed separate paths, with Woomble and Jones both releasing solo output that was heavily influenced by folk music. A dissatisfaction with what Jones believed to be ‘a saturated market for folk music’ led him to form a band ‘The Birthday Suit’, who produced a pair of albums before Idlewild reconvened. Woomble himself had used the break to work in a collective as well as on his own. Ultimately, given the hiatus was called amid no acrimony, it wasn’t a tough decision for the band to reconvene, and they believed that their hardcore fanbase still had an appetite for new Idlewild songs.

The band embarked on a jaunt around the Scottish Highlands roadtesting new material alongside a vast and rich back catalogue. However, this month sees the band’s first ‘full’ UK tour for with stops at Glasgow (twice), Birmingham (a review coming up soon), Manchester, London, Belfast and Dublin.

In an age of banality, dumbing down, instant gratification, there’s something pleasing about the return of a band who have always brought a literate profundity to our ears, an intellectual depth missing from much of today’s offerings.

 

 

 

 



Bite the Ballot

After Russell Brand’s now infamous call for people to abstain from voting, the issue of whether the electorate should and will vote has become an increasingly prominent issue, especially in light of the recent Scottish Independence Referendum allowing 16 and 17 year-olds the vote, a move that may well be replicated across the UK at future elections.

On Thursday, May 7th 2015 the General Election will take place, but will we witness an ascent in the electoral turnout? Since the end of the Second World War in 1945, voter turnout was maintained between 70% and 85% for every General Election until Tony Blair’s second victory saw a sharp decrease to 59.36%, a figure that did rise again to 65.11% in 2010, probably as a result of uncertainty over the eventual outcome. However this figure still means nearly 35% are not exercising their freedom to vote. A contributing factor to the missing proportion of voters is disillusionment amongst today’s youth over who is representing them. Across several European countries we see a greater number of older citizens voting as opposed to younger people.

One organization that is resolving to engage and inspire younger people to connect with the democratic process is Bite the Ballot, an organization established in London but with an office in Birmingham. I spoke to Birmingham’s passionate Community Engagement Officer, Sawsan Bastawy, about the organization’s vision and general assessment on the relationship between young people and politics.

JB: What is the primary intent of BTB?

Sawsan: Bite the Ballot works to create spaces and opportunities for people aged 16-24 to empower themselves to participate in democracy. We work on a model of inspiration. Our challenge is to inspire people to inform themselves; inspire them to engage with the issues that they care about; and ultimately, empower them to take an active role in democracy. We don’t mention obligation or legality. We want people to participate in democracy with enthusiasm, not because they feel they have to. Fortunately for us, the inspiration model is vastly more successful, which is why it costs us 25p to register someone to vote, while it costs the government £25.

JB: Are people disengaged with politics, or is it just party politics they feel a lack of connection with?

Sawsan: People aren’t disengaged with politics. Politics is everywhere, and it affects everything. What people do not necessarily do is make the connection between democratic participation and their life. When people aged 16-24 give me reasons why they don’t see themselves voting in the future, it has more to do with a) consensus politics: “they all sound the same and say the same thing, except for that one party”; b) useless politics “what difference does it make who wins? Nothing will change- nothing ever does”; c) unrepresentative politics: “I know what I want, but I don’t like any of the parties”; d) inaccessible politics: “I don’t know anything about the parties.”

The responsibility, in all instances, is on the politicians and their parties to meet these people half way. At the moment, people aged 25 and under are standing at that meeting point waving their hands furiously, trying to get the attention of the policy-makers. If they aren’t willing to meet under-25’s, shake hands, and talk about their place in democracy, the younger generations will turn their back too. Of course they won’t make the connection between what’s going on in their day-to-day lives and the government. Of course they won’t feel that their democratic participation is valuable. This is where Bite the Ballot steps in.

JB: Recent election turnouts have been disappointing; do you feel that uncertainty regarding the 2015 result will spark a rise in the turnout?

Sawsan: Absolutely. The coming General Election will mark a change in history – we have two parties, the Green Party and UKIP, whose popularity is snowballing; a strong opposition party; and a coalition government. In addition, the momentum built by the Scottish Independence Referendum towards a revamp of a political system has introduced the idea that real and meaningful change is possible. This is a liberating and exciting time to participate in democracy and to use your vote.

JB: What effect does what is happening globally impact younger generations here in the UK?

Sawsan: Global events impact UK youth immensely. Whether it’s concern over ISIS; TTIP; or global economic security and whether it affects our ability to enter the workforce; we are very much aware of the impact that events on the other side of the world have on our lives. More than this, however, we are seeing movements, youth-led movements, all over the world. From the Arab Spring to the student movement in Mexico, to the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong- the status quo is changing. People are reclaiming power and our actions- and our votes matter.

 

At the core of their drive to attract more young people into participating with the democratic process, Bite the Ballot, are taking part in National Voter Registration Day on Thursday, February 5th 2015. To find out more about this and the work Bite the Ballot do there are a variety of contact links down below:

Twitter: @bitetheballot or @bitebrum

www.bitetheballot.co.uk

Phone: 0203 609 3510

And for Sawsan, you can email her at Birmingham@bitetheballot.co.uk



TedxBrumVM-64

TEDxBrum 2014 A Personal Experience

From June to November, I was a member of the TEDxBrum 2014 team. For those unfamiliar with the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) concept, it is a set of global conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan: “Ideas Worth Spreading”. TED originated as a one-off event in 1984, before growing into a global entity, with TED events taking place across the globe from Sydney to Birmingham.

The Birmingham event has been running since 2011, founded by Anneka Deva, a guest this year, who then stepped down in 2012, passing the baton of inspiration to Imandeep Kaur, a woman with Birmingham at heart. She was leading the preparations for the 2014 event at The Library of Birmingham.

Any TED event is centred on a theme with this year’s theme as ‘DIY’. It was a choice that appealed to me due to my love of music, especially the late 1970s’ punk movement, which is rooted in a ‘do it yourself’ culture.

TedxBrumVM-75

After joining the team halfway through the organisation process, I attended meetings on a regular basis, absorbing in and being impressed by the sheer volume of ideas flowing from a bunch of creative, industrious and passionate individuals who were all here because of their love for TED and showcasing what Birmingham had to offer. In addition, I found attending meetings all the more pleasurable due to the harmonious nature within the team, devoid of sniping, pomposity and ego.

As the event neared, the intensity of the preparation inevitably increased, but with the energetic, hardworking and passionate maverick Imandeep leading the troops, there was no danger of standards slipping. A huge collective effort in the last few weeks left us ready to put on an event that would hopefully set a high benchmark for future TEDxBrum events to be judged by.

The team all arrived prior to 7am, a little tired but buzzing with anticipation at being part of a little history, as for many it was a maiden TED event. Carys Evans, who was working on her second TED event, had organised a large team of volunteers known as ‘Champions’ to ensure that all guests, speakers and sponsors had an enjoyable experience.

When watching people gathering outside before doors opened at 9am, I was then struck by the magnitude of the occasion. The Champions were then at our busiest registering in all the guests and presenting them with their iconic TED name badges, not forgetting goodie bags.

After the registration process it was a case of doing tasks, if required, or speaking to people about how their day had been, especially in the breaks, obtaining feedback – all positive – on how their day had been.

There was a little manual labour, including impressing a library staff member with my lifting of some large tables, while I also manned the coffee/tea tables.

Ian Harrison, was the Co-curator with Imandeep, had responsibility of arranging the speakers. He had struck a balance between speakers offering a Birmingham-centric vibe and those who didn’t.

The talks and musical/spoken word performances, organised by the chilled combination of Simarjeet Kaur and David Austin Grey, who was playing as part of Hansu-Tori, were split into four sub-themed sessions.

For the first three sessions I managed to view selected performances in the livestream zone, which was working in conjunction with the Bite the Ballot. I kept an eye on the action being relayed by the big screen, but was also engaged in a fascinating conversation with Sawsan Bastawy, the Community Engagement Officer, for the Birmingham arm of Bite the Ballot, an organisation with the primary aim of persuading people aged 16-24, to register to vote for forthcoming elections.

A talk that grabbed me was by ‘Mr Gangology’, or Raymond Douglas to his mom, in the way he used popular culture reference points to support his stance on gang culture. He slightly overran, and bits of his viewpoint were a little generalised, but he was amusing and engaging throughout.

I had the pleasure of being in the Studio Theatre for the last session, bringing home the cosy intimacy of the venue and the reverential hush of the audience, interspersed by moments of genuine laughter and applause.

My personal highlight of this session was Ann-Marie Naylor’s talk on the future of libraries, although it was more the way she recounted the transformation in her life from feelings of low self-confidence at 25 that resonated most strongly.

As for the ultimate climax, Lobster proved a shrewd choice, with their energetic, funky, cuts of ska-punk rock ushering the event to a chaotic, joyous and heartfelt denouement, which included many team members shaking their meat to the beat. The event was such a resounding success that I even indulged in a little dancing, an event that has occurred about three times in my adult life!

The day was tiring but the adrenaline and the friendly team and audience kept spirits high. It was a rewarding journey, highlighted by discovering that Birmingham, a city that I had become tired of, has a thriving creative and cultural identity that can hopefully be nurtured for many years to come.

To find out more about the event visit www.tedxbrum.org or follow on twitter @TEDxBrum