The View From… Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Bridie Jackson is a singer, songwriter, and – as will become apparent – an excellent writer. She was featured on ANBAD a while ago, too. She hails from the North-East of England, and, in the article below, provides a fascinating insight into the music scene of a part of the UK that is sometimes considered remote, or backward, or – worse – both. It’s an excellent, and refreshingly positive, read

The North-East gets a bad rep. The national belief that its grim up North combined with a few too many harrowing BBC two dramas, featuring sallow faced minors and scenes of parochial, small minded vigilantes has done nothing to help with the belief that Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and all its counterparts, are places to be escaped from at the first possible opportunity.

Bridie Jackson // Bitter Lullaby

But recently Newcastle, previously known only for mining strikes and the enduring charm of the Stottie, has evolved into a thriving and wonderfully unique city.

Despite years of being patronisingly viewed as the underdog, the place has gone stoically about its business with enviable diligence, creating a powerful grass root movement that feeds into a rich and diverse cultural backdrop of art, theatre, dance, and of course, music.

You only have to walk down Northumberland Street to be inundated with music of every genre, thanks to the cities vibrant busking culture. This began back in 2008, when a free thinking arts exec, in a bid to improve the chance of winning the highly coveted City of Culture prize, lifted the requirement for a licence to busk to in an attempt to liven up the streets of the city.

Although cruelly robbed of the title (we were pipped to the post by Liverpool) the decision has left a fascinating legacy and the City centre, especially Monument and Northumberland street heave with buskers of every quirk and trend, including duelling accordionists, a tuneless but enthusiastic panpipe troupe and a resident contortionist to mention but a few.

With an ever growing number of venues and promoters, you can attend a gig every night of the week and whatever your niche, you’re bound to find something worth seeing.

Slap bang in the centre of the city Centre is the Head of Steam, the heaving epicentre of the music scene, and the place everyone ends up at the end of the night, thanks to its late licence.

Famed for its basement venue, Northern soul soundtrack and sticky floors, this is also the perfect place to go if you are hankering after the authentic celebrity sighting, as regulars include Maximo Park, the Futureheads, Beth Jeans Houghton and Field Music to name but a few.

For the more esoteric listener we have the Jazz Club, found on former red light district, Pink Lane. Revered for its high quality music, erratic opening times, free ‘Jazz Burgers’ upon entry, and fearsome, heavily bearded owner, this is the place to go if you want an abrasive, uncensored experience.

As well as your standard pubs and venues, there’s several astounding, unique venues in the city, such as Morden tower, a turret built in the 12th century in the walls of the city, All Saints church and The Castle Keep, that all host infrequent, but utterly unique gigs and concerts.

Just outside the City Centre is the Ouseburn valley where, perched amongst a gritty industrial backdrop, are a stream of fantastic pubs and venues, most notably, The Cluny, The Cumberland and the Tyne Bar, famed for its all dayers, where bands play on the outdoor stage from midday day til late at night.

Also in the Ouseburn Valley, you can find The Star and Shadow, a venue run entirely by a team of committed volunteers and featuring a cinema, gallery, bar and stage. The venue has hosted some amazing gigs over the last few years, including sell out performances by a range of artists, including Alasdair Roberts, The Unthanks, The Slits, and Katherine Williams, to name but a few.

So, to round up, Visit Newcastle. Its mint.

The View From… Wigan

I’m not going to lie. I’m not the most organised person in the world. But even I feel awful that the reason that this following piece showcasing the dubious and multifarious delights of the northern English town of Wigan was that I simply plain forgot about it. Awful, awful, awful.

Still, Mike has written a snigger-worthy and idiosyncratic view of his hometown of Wigan – a place that has a number of unusual spots in the annals of pop history.

Mention Wigan to anyone, and if their first reaction isn’t “Where?”, it will inevitably include reference to one of two things, Pies, or Rugby League. As awesome as those two things are, suffice to say that the town hasn’t exactly been a musical talent production line.

Dig a little deeper however, and you realise that Wigan has helped to shape or change the musical world (or at least its UK outpost) on more than one occasion. We’re responsible for Comedy Banjo player (Banjoer? Banjolier? Never mind) and lamp-post based peeping tom George Formby, 1978’s best disco in the World (2nd place: Studio 54) Wigan Casino (now a shopping centre. Ahh, sweet progress), Pete Shelley of The Buzzcocks, The Verve and, errrrrrr, Kym Marsh (sorry about that).

But that was then. Nowadays everything seems to be in a bit of a holding pattern. All the usual sects have their own hangouts, the Goths and metalheads go to The Tudor House and headbang/do whatever weird stuff Goths do. Emos go to Club Nirvana and alternate between dancing insanely and crying about how unfair life is, painting their fingernails, that sort of thing.

And idiots go to Pada Lounge on the 1st Saturday of every month to experience the curious Northwest UK house phenomenon known simply as Donk, showcased brilliantly by the so-delightfully-terrible-it’s-almost-genius Blackout Crew. For everyone else, there’s the town’s small live venue The Tavern or the spectacularly poorly named Indiependence, your standard “we play loads of Oasis and Stone Roses so we can call ourselves an indie” club.

Or there is the wonder of King Street. A road so dangerous that during the Christmas period it is only accessible via a police-manned metal detector. How’s that for hard? Visit King Street looking for anything (other than, well, a fight to be honest, but let’s get off that topic) new or exciting and you’ll be sorely disappointed, consisting as it does of a variety of identikit theme bars playing the same mix of commercial pop and misogynist-tastic R’n’B (picture Akon stamping on a woman’s ass, over and over), kebab shops and, bizarrely, a solicitor’s office.

The new bands’ scene in the area is pretty much concerned with making a huge grinding racket, or the kind of jangly indie that even Arctic Monkeys are bored of. But one band are standing out. The Maladies of Bellafontaine are making happy folk ditties that sound straight outta Scandinavia, which is no bad thing whatsoever. In fact, it’s a very very very good thing.

The main problem Wigan has is its location. It’s mid-way between the giants of Manchester and Liverpool. Too close to either to be a separate entity, too far away to be included in their scene. And everyone seems to just be waiting for something to happen. But history says that when it does, everyone will know about it.

The View From… Glasgow

James was in a band called Juno, who, being a great new band once, were featured on ANBAD.

Then, just before their name would have been a perfect tie-in with the movie of the same name, they split up. To get over the trauma, James writes an article painting a rosy picture of the music scene in one of the UK’s traditionally most exciting musical cities...

Glasgow as a city speaks pretty loudly for Scotland, and it seems that a few bands seem to speak for the city but with an accent heavily on the morose.

However you don’t have to look very far to see that there are as many bands that add colour and vibrancy to the city as there are new venues opening to accommodate them. In the past year Glasgow has also seen two new festivals in Hinterland and the Stag and Dagger taking over venues such as The Arches, Admiral bar, Classic Grand, and the newly refurbished Captains Rest.

Crowds in Glasgow tend to differ a little depending on the venue, Mono and Stereo very much cater for the cool Indie types and often have classic performers from all over the world who its hip to like that may not be so well known in less well informed venues. The Captains Rest and Admiral are both relatively new as venues (in their current guises) but are both positioning themselves as serious stop offs for touring Indie bands. Recent years have seen the Cribs and Crystal Castles playing there before they went overground.

Pin Ups night at the Flying Duck club is a very interesting club because it is a mixture of local Indie bands and celebrity Dj’s. Aside from the promoters being very friendly the range of DJ’s has been remarkable including hosting NME aftershows and luminaries such as Alex James, Brett Anderson, Friendly Fires in the past couple of years. The nights tend to be great fun and often themed with a fancy dress angle.

Given also that this year also marked King Tuts 20th Birthday celebrations this seems an ideal time to focus on a couple of the new bands that have been making a name for themselves playing at some of these venues:

Futuristic Retro Champs

With virtually every reviewer who sees this band falling over themself to find new ways of describing just how shiny, fizzy and exciting their brand of synthpop is it is difficult to add much that hasn’t already been said. Formed as an art school project to soundtrack a film this band has already supported Kate Nash, Ladyhawke and Glasvegas.

March saw the release of their vinyl-esque ep and there are rumours of collaboration with a well-known Glasgow pop legend in the summer. If you ever find yourself in Glasgow make this band one to catch, I guarantee you will come out smiling.

Sonny Marvello

Sonny Marvello first made a name for themselves by putting on secret shows where audiences were blindfolded and taken to mystery venues for nights of debauchery and musical performances.

The band went on to win best international band at the renowned New York City Meany Festival and haven’t looked back since. With an accent heavily on the theatrical they know how to work a crowd nearly as well as they know how to write a catchy pop song. Leaning on the jaunty side of The Kinks they are purveyors of witty and infectious hooks and not afraid to dress up if the occasion warrants!

Suplex The Kid

Now this band possibly doesn’t fit the bill for appearing in my catalogue of cheer, as they are entirely instrumental. However their energetic and intense live performances have to be seen to be believed. Combining multiple effects pedals, violin bows and cheeky guitar riffs against an atmospheric backdrop they somehow make their guitars sound like they are speaking to you. I have absolutely no idea how they manage this, some folk just have all the talent!

The View From… Stoke-On-Trent

Dan Grose is a student in the dubious confines of Stoke-On-Trent, a grimy town now more famous for its extreme right-wing politicians and absence of job prospects than its music scene.

It’s also my home town  – one that I left years ago – and I was interested to hear what was happening there now, and what an outsider thought. Dan spies the glint of treasure in the Potteries’ slag heap

Nestled just inside the North West Staffordshire border, Stoke-On-Trent is often regarded as the ugly, deformed cousin of Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham when it comes to music.

Yet beauty lies beneath the surface, and there is considerably more to the scene than meets the eye. Boasting a rich and diverse musical history, there are many strings to Stoke’s bow to this day.

One of the thriving hubs of Northern Soul in the late 70’s and playing host to the likes of Led Zepplin in the early 80’s, there is still plenty alive in the current decade.

One thing you will get in abundance is passion. Travel to any gig with a local contingent and you will find a crowd full of enthusiasm and energy. Playing host to some of the best up and coming bands the country has to offer, The Sugarmill is the home of the Stoke music scene.

At a four hundred capacity it is by no means the biggest venue in the world, yet when packed to the rafters there are few to rival it’s atmosphere.

Swing across the town centre and you will find the rather dishevelled but undeniably charming Underground. Reportedly one of Pete Doherty‘s favourite UK venues, it holds few and boasts one of the stickiest floors you are likely to find. But again, much like the ‘Mill, fill it with a few hundred locals and a loud band and you’ve got yourself an evening.

Although very few local acts are on the brink of prominence, the quality and enthusiasm of many cannot be faulted. Travel to either of the aforementioned venues to see an established band and you are guaranteed to witness one if not two promising local support acts.

Often guitar driven – it seems to be a northern favourite – they regularly command a better crowd reaction than the main event.

A prime example are The Control; short, snappy and roguishly charming they are supporting the beleaguered Automatic later this month. With astute lyrics and catchy melodies they have already flirted with 6 Music and, no doubt, will command more respect than the headliners.

Yet diversity is also present amongst the endless supply of Indie bands, and none more so than the very talented Daniel J. Nixon. Stripped down acoustic at it’s best, Nixon regularly inhabits the Sugarmill whilst playing various venues across the North West. Blessed with a voice to melt the heart, his live shows are captivating and popular amongst the locals.

And as if that is not enough, the city’s history still thrives beneath the surface, with Northern Soul nights regularly happening across the area. Far from being sedate jaunts down memory lane, they remain the chaotic all – nighters they always were, attracting seasoned fans and young enthusiasts alike.

Yes, Stoke-on-Trent, may not have the pedigree or chiselled bone structure of it’s Northern relatives, but you cannot fault it for endeavour and substance alike. For passion, enthusiasm and commitment, you could do a lot worse than the Potteries.

The View From… Coventry

My Spanish friend Diego, who is living in Manchester to learn English, finds the phrase ‘sending someone to Coventry’ endlessly amusing.

‘What is so bad about Coventry?’ he asks, over and over. ‘Please stop asking me and go and find out,’ I tell him – but now the lazy so-and-so could just read this article. Andy, who writes songs under the moniker Atlum Schema, is frustrated and heartened by both Coventry’s musical lull and coming renaissance…

After chatting to a friend of mine who is a drummer in a Leamington Spa based band my attention was swiftly brought to examining the state of the music scene in Coventry and Warwickshire.

What grabbed me about what he said was that the band had decided to diminish the number of local shows they were playing, looking instead to concentrate on bigger cities: Birmingham (19 miles west of Coventry) and London (95 miles southeast) where they would more likely be able to make things happen.

The question that came to mind was why they felt they needed to do this, was it indeed true that for any local artists aspiring to take their music to the masses they would have to get out of the area in order to make this a reality?

Is the local music scene in Coventry and Warwickshire really that deplorable?  There are, I think two answers to these questions – both yes and no.

When it comes to bands and music, Coventry has a small city syndrome.  It rests upon its laurels of past success and lacks any real progressive drive, finding itself an emulator rather than innovator of exciting music, stumbling on success instead of searching for it.

A perfect example of both these aspects is evident looking back to the late seventies. Coventry was on the map as an exporter of 2 Tone records and ska bands such as The Specials and The Selectors who made waves worldwide.

There is rightly great pride in the city for this moment in music history, but rather than building upon any success it has tended to sit back on it and aspire to the past rather than seeking out what could make them proud in the future.

That said there is still a huge amount going on in the area; it is often a stop off for touring bands of all sizes with lots of venues to accommodate all levels of need. It is not through a lack of places for local music to grow and develop that causes the desire for bands head to ‘the city’ but instead what I believe to be a comfortable, uninspiring and disparate music culture.

Coventry lads The Enemy are another, much more recent example of success for the city and their footprint is still evident, but again they are a band that somehow got through, due to huge strategic industry involvement rather than as a product of a flourishing scene.

They were a big deal in the area and their name was everywhere, but I knew very few people who had actually seen them play prior to their immediately massive success which thrust them full-speed into an industry fuelled hype-fest during 2007, and then… they were gone.

One problem in the area is that rather than interesting one-off events that promoters, artists and fans have time and reason to get excited about, there are loads of regular weekly nights (mostly acoustic) that attract sparse audiences. The cause and effect of low turnouts generally results below-par acts too.

Promoters are desperate to fill loads of slots with anyone willing to do it (generally for free too) – the need for quantity therefore far exceeds the need for quality. It is not through a lack of great bands in the area that there is this sense of mediocrity, it is rather through a grass roots infrastructure that has become stuck in its ways and very inward looking.

It is not all doom and gloom however as recently there has been an awakening in the area to the problem and artists, music lovers and venues have started to really consider how to make things better.

There is a rich culture of art, poetry and music in the city, which has massive potential possibilities if we band together and move forward as one rather than everyone getting stuck in their own little area of individual quicksand that no one else really cares about.

Despite the tone of this article I am actually on the whole excited about the music scene in Coventry and Warwickshire over the next few years.  I’ve been discovering many great local bands and believe that if they stick with it and actually do a little bit of work themselves to make the scene great rather than pining after the grass up the M6 or down the M40 it will be a fruitful and exciting place to be.

I would love to hear from anyone with similar experiences, wherever you are and any advice you have for moving things forward. In the meantime watch out for Being Jo Francis, Akeal, Post War Years, Don’t Move! Lee Mitchell and Men in Caves, just a small puddle in the huge pool of local talent.  Now let’s make things happen…

So why not help Andy make things happen? Listen to his excellent music and download his equally good album at

The View From… North East London

In this scathing View From feature, fabulously-be-named North-East Londoner Massimo Zepettelli bemoans the local new music vacuum, and suggests how things could (and should) change for the better…

London. One of the most thriving cities in the world for music and all kinds of culture. Many (rightly) presume there to be somewhere to enjoy live music in all geographical corners of the capital.

Sorry, not North East London: Seven Sisters, Tottenham Hale, Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow, Leytonstone, Snaresbrook and South Woodford. Nothing is near any of these stations.

What a shame that no one has realised this gap in the market. I will focus on Walthamstow because this is where I live: we have no cinemas, no comedy clubs, no theatres, and no music venues.

The closest (and only) venue that I know of in the areas I mentioned above is The Standard on Blackhorse Road, embarrassingly home to the longest line-up of cover bands.

It’s like a needle in a haystack trying to find a band who writes their own songs in the listings. It’s actually a really nice venue, quite big and literally opposite the station, so it’s ideal for travellers… IF a good band were to be booked.

So where is the scene? I am going to blame awful promoters and a lack of faith. Bollocks that the market isn’t there – it’s London in Zone 3 for goodness sake. It’s only 30 minutes bus journey away from two of the trendiest parts of East London – Islington and Hackney.

No one wants to risk parting with their money in our area. But I promise you, if enough promoters and music lovers have faith and put on a couple of good acts (presuming you have the contacts for good/up-and-coming/semi-established) bands then The Standard and a new venue in Walthamstow will thrive.

The rent is nothing compared to Islington and Shoreditch either and the Olympics is coming up in neighbouring area, Stratford. There’s every reason to set-up shop now.

Let’s compare to the other end of the Victoria Line: Brixton. The Brixton Windmill is a great venue which has put on loads of great artists in the past who are now massive: Maximo Park, Noah & The Whale, The Cribs and get Cape Wear Cape Fly to name a few.

However, the venue is a 15 minute walk up much more ghetto streets than the 15 second walk in Blackhorse Road; I reckon it’s impossible to be mugged in such a short distance.

What Walthamstow and North East London needs is a nice, small venue with character like The Lumninaire which will attract semi-established acts, secret shows for bigger artists and allow showcases for those starting out.

Follow Atlum Schema/Andy Mort’s drive to revive the Coventry scene. If it can be done in Coventry, it surely can be done in London.

Massimo Zeppetelli writes a blog titled ‘My Fave Bit’, where he shares his love for that great bit of a song which you can’t help rewinding and listening to over and over again. It’s a genuinely excellent read.

The View From… Melbourne

In the first of  ANBAD’s new View From features – where writers from all over the world give us an insight into what’s happening to new music where they are – Chris A introduces us to a story of lost talent, possible redemption and an astonishingly facile dance phenomenon that will blow your mind…

Australia. Referred to by our tourism administration as ‘The Sunburnt Country’, referred to by fellow Australians as ‘Australia’. Australia contains more than just cute fuzzy wildlife and cricket champions- it contains the great city of Melbourne; which incidentally is where I live.

Think of Melbourne as a less-famous version of the more well-known Sydney; the difference is that Melbourne does not have a ghastly white pointy monstrosity where opera is supposedly performed.

Instead it contains all the culture of Australia, the film industry, amazing art galleries, literature… the list goes on. However, somewhere, we lost music.

Melbourne has produced in the past musical legends such as Men at Work (Down Under), Skyhooks (Horror Movie) and the locally famous Daddy Cool whose 70s hit ‘Eagle Rock’ still remains a popular drunk-sing-along tune in the parties of today. But what are we doing now that 2010 has rolled along?

Unfortunately, now that The Avalanches’ fame has died out after the indescribably amazing hit Frontier Psychiatrist, The Living End moved onto a less daring and more profit-safe sound and the consistently brilliant Cat Empire are pushed into the underground cult fan scene; Melbourne is left with no hit bands worth a mention.

But the real tragedy of Melbourne’s situation is in the upcoming ‘talent’.

Every Battle of the Bands can now be more likened to a side-fringe hair competition, with more angsty teens trying to form mosh pits than you can poke a My Chemical Romance CD at.

The amount of vocal-cord shattering, eardrum bleeding screamo bands in the city is more tragic than the lyrics that the bands themselves scream. Sydney has taken the lead in Aussie music with Electro-punk acts The Presets, and the upcoming Cassette Kids.

However there is still hope for the beloved Melbourne: Techno-clubbers enjoy The Edgy and The Prince clubs as places to do the ‘Melbourne shuffle’ to The Bloody Beetroots’ ‘Warp 1.9’ on repeat.

The Hardstyle Trance scene in the city is notoriously conjoined with the Melbourne-exclusive social stereotype ‘Muzza’, a phenomenon that- (like the hideous architecture of Federation Square) has to be seen to be believed.

Alt. rockers can take refuge in The Ding Dong Lounge, Revolver and Nighthawk, where Melbourne’s musical saviours; bands like Vixia, Johnny Rock and the Limits and The Solomons fight with their backs against the wall to fend off the hordes of emo sympathizers, wannabe Cannibal Corpse-esque Death Metal bands and Melbourne-Shuffling Muzzas.

They bring rock with tangible melodies and at the very least – remotely understandable lyrics – back to the locally deprived fans. Melbourne music may yet rise again.

Chris A//Melbourne//

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