Monday, 15 June 2009

It's not all rock and roll...

In the interests of fairness and balance, here are a couple of pop pieces I wrote for Entertainment Manchester.

Craig David @ The Lowry, Salford Quays – 16 June 08

Craig David was unlucky. He really was. Leigh Francis (aka rubber-faced Avid Merrion) could have picked just about anyone to destroy the career of, but it was Southampton born David that he chose to portray as a bedwetting Northerner for no apparent reason, other than that “Bo selecta!” made a good catchphrase.

He also memorably won no BRIT awards one year despite being nominated for multiple categories. David is only just recovering from both setbacks. He was unfairly made the laughing stock of the nation, but now he is beginning to fight back, putting on a fine show to prove the doubters wrong, although admittedly his audience comprised mainly of teenagers and drunk women.

Supporting tonight are five-piece Mamas Gun. They play a thoroughly enjoyable half-hour of funky jazz and in singer Andy Platts have a man with charisma in buckets. They are the sort of band you could see doing very well on a talent show like the X Factor, and I mean that as a compliment. They need to make more of their upbeat material and less of the slower, less musically interesting numbers if they are to progress, however.

Technical issues delay David’s arrival onstage, with his band (almost double figures of them) standing around waiting uncomfortably for him for two or three minutes. But the eventual effect is dazzling, an already well up-for-it crowd go wild when David emerges and launches straight into recent single ‘Hot Stuff (Let’s Dance)’.

David strives to control the set’s pace throughout, mixing the ballads into the set well, but there are often problems when his backing musicians are needed to slow or speed up the music immediately, with a muddying of the sound quite frequent.

His main problem is that he can’t decide who he wants to be. He comes out wearing an ice-white jacket and sunglasses, looking like a poor man’s Kanye West (a comparison also apt for when David attempts rapping), before ditching the shades to come across as more of a boy-next-door type. Which is difficult when most of his songs are about bedding members of the fairer sex.

David’s soulful voice is far better suited to the slower numbers where he has the chance to show off his vocal range, but the fact remains that the material he is working with is weak. Next single ‘Officially Yours’ is a prime example, offering nothing of substance to the listener.

However, the buzzing crowd reacts far better to David’s more up-tempo tracks, with plenty of dancing in the aisles taking place despite the stewards’ frowns. David’s voice is lost in the mix when his delivery speeds up though. The brass section also adds an unnecessary and distasteful Mark Ronson-esque tinge to otherwise soundly delivered songs.

It was not all bad at all though. David has grown into a master of working the crowd, and did an excellent job of making sure everyone was enjoying themselves. He’s also got a raft of pretty listenable songs behind him, although he’ll always be better known for his earlier work, with ‘7 Days’ and ‘Walking Away’ receiving by far the biggest cheers of the night.

Sadly, the quality of his output is reflected in recent chart placings. Long gone is the young star who twice topped the British singles charts, replaced with a confidence-shy man who appears lost over what direction to take now. David was heralded as the saviour of R ‘n’ B in this country and it hasn’t at all gone according to plan. But he is back on the right track. His next album, his fifth, will surely make or break him, his current generation of fans will surely soon grow tired of him and he will need a fresh trick to attract new listeners. But on this showing, he still has the talent to make something of himself yet.

3 stars

Craig David gave a nostalgic performance, as Salford remembered in patches why he was at one point so highly rated.

The Feeling - Manchester Academy 2 - Monday 5th June '07

Before I begin, let me tell you everything I knew about The Feeling before I saw them live. They have had quite a catchy single. That’s it. I was informed by my companion that they’re very mellow, nice and gentle. Bit like Snow Patrol. Right…

Well, he was wrong. Maybe their live show is deliberately beefed up. Maybe the incredibly noisy, fantastic, foot-stomping rock and roll from support band Marner Brown (who, incidentally, have brilliant shoes) just made The Feeling seem a bit heavier. I don’t know, but mellow this wasn’t.

The Feeling’s album, “Twelve Stops From Home” had only come out that day, but that didn’t stop an alarming number of fans appearing to know most of the words. Indeed, I was positioned next to two Feeling uber fans, who not only knew all of the words to all of the songs, including lone newie “Join With Us”, but had also appeared to have devised their own dance routines. Which was odd. But an indication of how easy it is to love this band.

I had heard that The Feeling were an unfashionable band to like, and this was backed up by the surprising amount of, shall we say, older fans among the crowd. That said, it was a good turnout, the band practically filling Academy 2 despite an upgrade of venue from Academy 3. However, I couldn’t see why they’d earned this reputation, I mean, sure, they wear their love of 70’s pop-rock obviously enough on their sleeve, and look like maths teachers rather than rock stars, but they’re still cool, right? Well, I think so.

Definitely cool is lead singer Dan Gillespie Sells, who resembles Editors frontman Tom Smith in looks. Wheeling around in a circle, hammering his foot up and down, all the while pulling off ridiculous guitar solos, you want to laugh at him, but you’re just too busy going “Wooooooah….”

The band throw away recent hit “Fill My Little World” early on, but it pays off, with the crowd becoming much more animated as a result. Another highlight is the gorgeous “Rose”, which Sells proclaims to be about love and alcohol. Good combination.

The bouncy “Same Old Stuff” comes next, closely followed by the band’s anthem, “Sewn”, which prompts a mass singalong, along with much waving of arms and lighters. It’s a beautiful moment, but as touching and heartfelt as the song is, you can’t help but feel it’s missing something. Something you can’t put your finger on. Something that would propel The Feeling to superstardom, if only they had it. The “Run” factor. It’s simply lacking, and it’s a real shame. Even if it is perhaps only a repeat of the chorus at the end for the crowd to sing.

“Sewn” is really the peak of the evening, although “Join With Us” is very promising, if a little too similar to the material taken from the album. It’s difficult to see where the band can go next.

The Feeling close with “Love It When You Call” prompting another singalong to the basic lyrics. It’s all good clean fun. Bit of a guilty pleasure really. They then encore with “Blue Piccadilly”, a gentle number that doesn’t exactly give you that superb end-of-gig rush. It’s a shame they didn’t save “Sewn” for the end really, or play it again, because that would have given the evening the end it deserved.

So, what did I learn? I learnt not to listen to my mate’s description of bands, and I learnt that I actually quite like “great big no-nonsense, hook-filled, giant-chorused pop music” – as The Feeling describe themselves on their website. I learnt that The Feeling are unlikely to be huge, but that they’re a great summer band. I learnt that they’re actually quite like Delays, which is no bad thing.

Finally, if The Feeling’s drummer Paul Stewart did anything exciting I didn’t see it, due to where I was stood. Sorry about that…


And yes, I am ashamed at giving The Feeling a good review. But I enjoyed it!

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