Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ben Parker at the Greys and Antibalas at Komedia

When questioned about my musical tastes, I tend to reply "eclectic", and am pleased to say that this claim can now be validated via my musical profile on Last.fm – an excellent music networking site that logs and charts the music you listen to on your computer, shows what your friends are listening to, allows you to make recommendations and find people with similar tastes to you, as well as generating weekly and rolling charts of your most listened to tracks and artists. As both an online geek and passionate music lover, this was a natural addition to my (some would say, excessive) online activity, and I’ve been intrigued to see how my own charts have progressed from week to week, and to discover who are my most musically compatible friends. It came as no shock to see Boo Hewerdine permanently topping the overall list of favourite artists, closely followed by current favourites Arcade Fire, but the rest has been more of a surprise. I have taken to using the ‘generate similar artists’ function as a great way to expand my musical horizons. One of these sessions threw up a track by Antibalas, who I had come across before, on some compilation or other, and liked, so it was a welcome reminder. Then a few days later, I happened to see that they were playing at Komedia, and jumped at the chance to see them live.

At first listen, one could be forgiven for presuming that Antibalas are a classic Africa-funk band, in the Fela Kuti mould. So I was genuinely surprised to see a predominantly white American line-up when they walked on stage, and a middle-aged geeky looking bunch at that. The exception being the lead singer/bongo-player, who obligingly fulfilled the expected clichĂ©, with tribal make-up, dreadlocks and a flamboyant suit. The African vibe certainly dominates the band's overall sound, but there are other, subtler influences which give them an edginess sometimes absent from the more straightforward funk genre. I spent most of the gig possessed by a dancing frenzy that also appeared to have seized the rest of the crowd. It’s impossible not to at least tap a foot along to their infectious rhythms, and the atmosphere was positively banging (not a word I use lightly) as the rambling, fevered funk tunes maintained a consistently contagious pace, keeping everyone on their feet, and grinning manically.

In complete contrast to Friday’s sweaty funk-fest, Monday brought a much gentler evening of live music from the newly solo Ben Parker, formerly one half of cult acoustic duo Ben & Jason. Alongside Boo Hewerdine, Ben & Jason afforded some of the most significant and enduring music of my early adulthood, accompanying and enhancing many of its defining moments - packing my bags to leave home, the first time my future husband told me he loved me, mourning the death of a dear friend - they were always there, providing a soundtrack that was both comforting and challenging, soothing and uplifting. An equally defining moment was the day I heard that B&J were to split - and will happily admit to shedding real tears at their farewell gig at the Jazz CafĂ©. I have since maintained an active interest in their respective solo projects – Jason as a successful comedy writer and Ben in his various musical exploits. Now going it alone, with a slightly more mainstream sound, Ben Parker is currently re-establishing his presence on the circuit, with intimate gigs in various pub venues. I was lucky enough to catch one of these at the lovely Greys pub in Hanover – a tiny but well-respected establishment, famous locally for its impressive selection of Belgian beer, and an eclectic live music programme that includes a regular Monday night Folk club.

Ahead of Ben’s headline slot, two local bands – The Boy Who Kicked Pigs and Red Feather – set the tone nicely with mellow folk tunes and friendly banter. The little pub was packed out by the time the man himself came on stage, and there was a buzzy, anticipatory atmosphere among the 30-something, coupley crowd (a distinct departure from the Greys’ usual beardy-fleece-wearing-old-school-folk clientele). Mr Parker had the audience immediately enraptured with an intensely passionate, foot-stamping rendition of Angels & Demons – a catchy pop ballad with folky undertones - and certainly the stand-out track of the night for me. Then suddenly the back of my neck was prickling as Ben demonstrated the true power and quality of his vocals - ditching the microphone and belting un-plugged for a moment during the bittersweet love song Survive the Rain. The combination of that familiar, affecting voice, and some elegantly poignant lyrics had me welling up all over again. I did miss the droll repartee that Mr Hazeley used to bring to the proceedings (no wonder he ended up in comedy), but Parker has certainly proved that he has the necessary to go it alone, and I for one wish him all the best in his burgeoning solo career.

Links
www.last.fm/user/Rowstar
www.antibalas.com
www.myspace.com/benparkermusic
www.myspace.com/theboywhokickedpigs

Recommended Listening



Still mulling over Brazil...

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Ride of My Life

Life has been so hectic lately that I hardly know where to start with the backlog of potential blogging material that has accumulated. Adventures in Brazil, training for (and successfully completing) the London to Brighton Bike Ride, a spate of live music exploits, a growing addiciton to Crackbook, er, I mean Facebook, writing freelance music and book reviews for various websites and magazines, as well as holding down a 9-5 job, has meant that my self-indulgent 'life journal' writing has been put on a bit of a back-burner, which I plan to try and rectify this week. But while I'm still buzzing from yesterday's big bike ride, I shall share a few thoughts about the day...

As most of my friends are well aware, I managed to avoid, and indeed consciously spurn, any kind of meaningful exercise for the best part of 30 years - unless of course you count the drunken flailing that happens when I hit the dancefloor. So when I decided to start cycling 8 miles to work in Lewes last year, the result was something of a revelation. I surprised myself by actually enjoying it! After several months of two-wheeled commuting, I found myself bursting with energy and several dress sizes smaller. My friend Mat also cycles to work - about 6 miles - and we both thought it would be fun to put our calf muscles to the test by doing a sponsored ride, so the London to Brighton seemed the obvious choice. As well as cycling, we both also share a passion for dressing up, and couldn't resist the opportunity to show off in front of thousands of fellow cyclists, not to mention the many appreciative spectators:



Me and Mr Smith as Penelope Pitstop &the Hooded Claw


Having opted for the earliest start time - 6am - we stayed over with friends in London the night before, and were up and raring (well, almost) at 4.45am. There was a bit of a queue at Clapham Common, and we finally got away around 6.45, after an hour or so of jolly banter and people-watching. The first couple of hours was slow-going, with narrow country lanes causing several bottlenecks, and less able cyclists struggling with some tiny hills, holding us all back. Eventually the roads opened up, and the riding became more pleasurable, especially with the beautiful Surrey and Sussex scenery rolling past. We made a few 'comfort' stops at various official refreshment points, and eventually cruised across the finish line at about 1pm, feeling smugly triumphant as a crowd of well-wishers cheered us in. Mat had cause to feel extra pleased with himself, as he managed to cycle up all of the notoriously steep and lengthy Ditchling Beacon, where most people choose to get off and push. I got about half-way and was seized by an unfortunate cramp in the groin, so I reluctantly joined the walkers, jumping back on for the last 100 yards or so to the top, where Mat was sat on a bank, having a well-earned rest and enjoying the lovely views.


The atmosphere all day was generally friendly and excitable, with only a few 'serious' cyclists seeming to resent the rest of us 'amateurs', grumpily speeding past and ignoring the Marshals' instructions to"keep to the left". I felt proud of my body for holding out, and especially for not hurting too badly today. In fact my legs and bum are fine - bizarrely, it's my shoulders and upper back which are suffering most. But despite the mild discomfort, I can really understand how people get addicted to this sort of thing, and am already thinking about what my next bike adventure will be. Perhaps a cycling holiday rather than another sponsored event, at least for a little while. My friends and family have been very generous in their donations, and it would be rather cheeky to ask them to cough up again too soon! In fact, I exceeded my £100 target by £115, raising £255 in total. So, a big "thank you" to everyone who sponsored me. Anyone else who would like to contribute, can still do so at: http://www.bhf.org.uk/sponsor/rowstar


More photos of the event can be seen at my Flickr page: www.flickr.com/photos/rowstar


Brazil blog coming soon...