Gorillaz & friends

De La Soul / Danny Brown / Vince Staples

Dreamland, Margate, UK

They might bear the dubious distinction of ‘world’s biggest virtual band’, but Gorillaz have all but phased out any ‘virtual’ pretentions. What began as cartoonish conceit has, perhaps inevitably, become more real and binding in development. And while they limply persist with certain gimmicks – the inexplicable presence of death figures roaming Dreamland’s grounds all day; the frankly distracting stage animations (which goes for ALL screens); the fact we’re in Dreamland (geddit?) – you get the impresssion this garish Hewlett factor is now extraneous to Gorillaz’ newfound verisimilitude.


The architecture of new album ‘Humanz’ mines a deeper musical trench, and perennial show-off Damon Albarn has made a surprisingly happy transition into musical egalitarianism. Onstage, he seems to relish the plethora of ‘special guestz’ – including Kilo Kish, a luminescent Kali Uchis, a frenetic Kano, a Graham Coxony Graham Coxon – neither of whom steal or promote his thunder; it’s a perfect storm, typified by the distant thunder of ‘Sex Murder Party’, a deeply salacious ménage abattoirs comprised of Albarn, Kelela and Danny Brown, whose earlier warehouse party made for some thrusty, bass-filthy foreplay. In their own set, De La Soul made faint gestures of some classic tracks; as nominal Gorillaz they stamped bombastic class all over ‘Momentz’ and ‘Feel Good Inc’s windmilling finale, all the while Albarn dipping in and out, impishly jocular as if in, well, Dreamland. It’s infectious too; the party vibes spill frothily from the stage with untamed abandon, as does a bewildered Shaun Ryder’s sleepy lunge through ‘DARE’, which seemed like just that.


And while the circus acts may provide animated distraction – ‘Clint Eastwood’s “sunshine in a bag” casts a novelty shadow – it’s Gorillaz’ emergent humanity, exemplified by the tender Kelela duet ‘Busted & Blue’ and ‘We Got The Power’s call-to-arms, that brings a whole other reality to virtual dimensions.

10 June 2017

*edited-for-print version of this review in Record Collector – OUT SOME POINT!

Set list:

Ascension / Last Living Souls / Saturn Barz / Stylo / Tomorrow Comes Today / Rhinestone Eyes / Charger / Momentz / Submission / Sex Murder Party / She’s My Collar / El Manana / Dirty Harry / Let Me Out / Andromeda / Busted & Blue / Strobelite / Kids With Guns / DARE / Out Of Body / Garage Palace / We Got The Power

Encore: Sleeping Powder / Feel Good Inc. / Clint Eastwood / Don’t Get Lost In Heaven / Demon Days




EMBRACE – SG22 review, Knebworth, England



SECRET GIG 22: ‘ONE BIG FAMILY’ (incorporating SG23)

Knebworth Park, Hertfordshire

September, 2014.


Several pilgrims have come unstuck in time.

What time is it? Chronologically, it’s 6 September 2014 A.D. Conceptually, it’s every time and no time – all at the same, er, time.

You see, these are pilgrims that have ventured into another Embrace huddle that is the group’s unique Secret Gig (SG) series. However, this time it’s a secret festival, which is designed to incorporate every SG that has gone before – a paradoxical hidden store composed of nostalgia and anticipation. Welcome to Cache 22.

Aptly subtitled ‘Extraction’, participants are encouraged to create a kind of thematic genus that makes up the DNA of the SG strain. Put simply, the anatomy of this festival is comprised of all the elements of SGs of yore – and all have dressed accordingly to pay homage. Some of your more fervent nutters have even created exhibits (the SG5 cave tribute being a particularly inventive one). Having only attended one previous event myself (SG21 – the corps vs the corpses zombie fest in Holmfirth), I’m given a crash course of previous themes, which are peppered all over the place with Trekkie-like verisimilitude. Indeed, it seems a species from the planet Geek has inherited the Earth.


Shaw and Conner: Alien invasion

Another theme encouraged by the cryptic Embrace administration (instructions are hush-hush and delivered via Gestapo-like email aliases) is the welcoming of extra-terrestrial life to our little planet. The idea here is to display to any prospective interstellar visitors what represents the best of this world. For my part, I anticipate the arrival of the Tralfamadorians from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, a species with no concept of time and, as a consequence, mortality. Whenever death or an ending is mentioned, the phrase “So it goes” follows. Thus, being the morbid mortal I am, my outfit is designed to welcome the people of Tralfamadore with our harshest truths – time and death: my ‘skeletal jeans’ representing our finite, decomposing nature, and the tallies being the marks of time to which we’re bound until our inevitable snuffing of the proverbial it. So it goes.

Nobody notices/gives an arse about such obscure referencing, and said costume is pronounced dead on arrival. So it fucking goes.

Elsewhere, more convivial costumes are being paraded (my only maudlin allies are the slew of SG21 zombies shambling around) – people made up in garlands of flowers (or actually as flowers), garish make-up, onesies (beats me), and alien hats fashioned from tin foil like superconductors. Luckily, no lightning storm arrives to cook up a head barbeque.

But the primary costume here seems to be no costume at all. No, don’t get excited: ‘SG’ doesn’t stand for ‘Sans Garments’ or ‘Showing Gonads’. I mean that there’s a sense of commonality here that’s free of the kind of ostentatious posturing you can get at other festivals. The costumes being sported are not enough to camouflage the affiliation that abounds here. True to its title, the festival really does feel like a One Big Family – minus the bitter recriminations and latent hostility.


In my skeletal jeans, I take three beauties for wives

A case in point, upon arrival, our retarded efforts to pitch a tent – one that has been kindly donated by a friend who neglected to mention its architecture was conceived by Erno Rubik – are salvaged by a couple of fellow campers in shocking red wigs, under which lies more common sense than either of us (take a bow, Grant and Zee).

So now it’s festival time. With an itinerary as obscure as all previous instructions – the line-up consists of Embrace and various ‘surprise’ guests, including a headliner (the band are not, it turns out, fronting their own festival) – it shouldn’t come as any surprise that, well, another surprise was lurking.

Sure enough, no sooner had we constructed our canvas Rubik’s Cube than the familiar sound of “Ahhh-ohhh ahhh-ohhh” drifts out across the verdant countryside from the direction of a small copse of trees at the base of the field’s incline. Something’s going on already.

And so, to the sound of Follow You Home’s now ubiquitous tribal chant we follow it home to an enchanting enclosure of trees straight out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where hundreds of more savvy festival-goers have already congregated.

On a small stage in the cEmbForestlearing, Danny ‘Puck’ Namara is the enchanter, conducting the gathering through his band’s call-to-arms anthem One Big Family almost like a narrator. The song’s “We got family” refrain, normally a rousing larynx ripper among the crowd, here emits a more emollient choral togetherness, like a Christmas carol being shared around a family piano. But in a wood. It’s a charmingly subtle way to begin the party, and a pleasant Russian doll-like surprise in that we get an even more secret gig within a secret gig. Shame muggins here knew sod-all about it and only caught the last song. There were a few clues on site, apparently, but this reviewer was too busy being clueless with his bastard tent.

The fact SG22 is inaugurated by SG23 seems apt, seeing as we’re all unstuck in time anyway.

Speaking of which, we’re back at the festival site and immersed in memorabilia and homage as if time is in a state of flux. In terms of support for Embrace, time is pretty much irrelevant. After an eight-year hiatus, there are few bands that can re-emerge and still draw this kind of devotion. There are stalls and exhibits constructed by aficionados – the cave of SG5 from uberfans Darren and Liz is particularly spectacular – and the band themselves are interacting with autograph signing and general mingling. Keyboardist Mickey Dale, who is fast becoming the band’s Del Trotter, has again set up his own merchandise stall, and bassist Steve Firth has created his own Danny’s Arms pub sign (which was unceremoniously nicked by one person clearly oblivious to the spirit of the event).


‘Tally ho!’ Photo: Sarah Parry

It’s pretty much an egalitarian experience – there are no parameters here. That seems to be the essence of this band – Embrace truly embodies its own name.

It’s both surprising and fitting that Embrace should choose Knebworth as the setting for their miniature festival – a place that has staged absolutely huge mega-events in its history, not least the shambles that was the million-plus-attended ego-circus for Oasis, a band to whom Embrace were once inexplicably compared. It seems almost poetic that this understated affair should be set here, free as it is of ostentatious bombast, in harmony with its beautiful surroundings (the crowd even cleans up after itself), and completely devoid of egotistical posturing.

Now, there’s a comparison if you want one.

With such a plethora of events happening, this reviewer has to admit to missing many of the supporting acts. What we did catch, the welcome surprise of The Magic Numbers (nice touch, that), was a buoyant and playful performance that saw the brother-sister partnership perfectly align itself with the familial atmosphere that’s emerging. Great as their set is – particularly a touching rendition of Forever Lost – you have to feel for The Magic Numbers, because the anticipation for the (non) headliners is reaching boiling point…

Step forward Embrace.

The encroaching darkness makes for a perfect setting to the opening chords of Protection – a portentous monolith of an opener that feels like a cultish induction. And despite all the inclusive how-do-you-dos the band engaged in earlier, up on stage the five high priests of Embrace are elevated.

The first words are as uncanny and they are heart-stopping.sg22live

“It wasn’t perfection I was expecting…”

Danny McNamara’s voice has come under some scrutiny over the years –particularly since their re-emergence – but those first lines are the most apt words ever uttered on stage. Even the die-hards are speechless. It certainly wasn’t perfection anyone was expecting, but what emerges from Mr McNamara’s mouth, and reverberates across this glorious landscape as the last embers of dusk kiss the skyline, is hauntingly sublime.

Rumours abound that Danny McNamara had made a jaunt to America to have severe vocal training. Other tales are circulating that this could be something of a Dolly Partongate.

While I can’t confirm or deny the former, this reviewer can unequivocally disconfirm the latter. Though it’s easy to think the singer, who has been plagued by a lack of confidence and scale, might have opted for miming rather than howl at his devoted fans for two hours, is most definitely live and singing his heart out. And in perfect pitch. The transformation in his voice is remarkable – there seems to be a palpable return of confidence that’s been absent for some time.

This is confirmed when the band’s cathartic anthem All You Good Good People is played in the original key of F-sharp – most live versions since Glastonbury 2000 have been tuned down by two semi-tones, diluting the grandeur of the song’s skyscraping chorus –and the whole of Knebworth is reaching for its rejuvenated heights.

Further evidence comes in the fact certain tracks that have proved an Achilles heel for the singer are reintroduced into their repertoire. The fragility of The Love It Takes has no hiding place for a singer with no confidence, and is delivered with febrile, emotional delicacy – there are a few watery eyes in the audience when this rare gem is rolled out. Likewise, by Danny McNamara’s own admission, the opening track from 2001’s If You’ve Never Been was always a vocal mountain to conquer; that he is up on stage now, without a sherpa, scaling the precarious terrain of that song proves his insecurities with Over are well and truly that.

With the same titular parallel, Come Back To What You Know – historically a bit of a vocal stumbling block – really comes back into familiar territory, in that it’s also played in its original key, and not a single note is misplaced. An appreciative faithful are also in fine voice. Not least when what has now become the band’s anthemic calling card is brought out – Follow You Home requiring no prompting, preceded as it is by the choir from the church of “Ahhh-ohhh” in the crowd (a sect that has been previously confused with the cult of the huge mistake, though devotees of the church of “Uh-oh” deny any association). This song, and its irresistible call-to-arms coda, has now become the staple vocal diet of the Embrace faithful, who are chanting it well into the night like hiccupping owls. They even greet an onstage wedding proposal with it (someone called Zach insisting a girl called Kirstie has got to say ‘yes’… though they could feasibly have been chanting “No-ohh no-ohh”).


With everyone in a virtual group hug by now, it’s time for the festival’s anthem, One Big Family – a song that has always outshone its recorded version, by virtue of the fact it needs to be screamed into the sky. With Danny and brother Richard sharing vocals and giving their larynxes a good pummelling, the entire crowd are one amorphous family and hugging their way through the song’s sentiment. It’s apt that this track should be the subtitle to this festival, and evidence that this is one of the songs that truly defines Embrace and its following.

Another track that benefits from the fresh air, and is possibly their best and most muscular live song, is Save Me (yes, it came earlier in the set, but remember, we’re unstuck in time). A virtual booby-trap of musical pyrotechnics, this track is a series of explosions set to go off within a deceptively breezy and jaunty verse. With similar volatility, the audience are hurling their limbs around with epileptic enactments of explosive death throes. So it goes. And even though the entire gathering is aware of the combustible nature of this song, the chorus still retains an utterly atomic power to surprise.

Equally, the band’s true call-to-arms anthem Ashes ends the set with heart-thumping, soul-soaring grandeur. That it should follow the band’s weakest link – the Coldplay-penned Gravity, a popular but comparatively substandard track – lends it an even more incendiary element, like a true phoenix from the flames. The words “Watch me rise up”, chorused by everyone here, echoes across the landscape like an implacable war cry.

It that moment, watching a devoted crowd hollering the words into the night sky like banshees, it’s clear that Embrace, despite an eight-year absence, are not the kind of band that can ever truly disappear. The music is indelible.


And speaking of never buggering off, it’s encore time, and the absolute best has been saved for this moment. Quite how the first song in tonight’s encore didn’t make it onto the new album is mind-boggling, but the live debut of the genetic genius that forms the strain of DNA, perhaps the best song Embrace have written, is a truly captivating moment. Danny McNamara has never looked more severely focused, his normally inclusive stage presence confined to himself, darkly shrouded in solitude and delivering the words as if his life depended on it. A collective shiver seems to ripple through the crowd when he sings the lines: “I will want what I can’t have ’til I’m dead in the ground”. So it goes.

A testimony to not only the power of Embrace’s music but their frontman’s sincerity, this monolithic download-only song is the clearest indicator of the band’s future direction: the top of the world. And on this stage tonight, as he clutches onto the soul of his music for dear life, Danny McNamara is on higher ground than he has ever been.

But it’s not all the Big Mac’s show – younger bro Richard’s colossal rendition of lead single Refugees scales similar heights, but it’s more release than realisation – a firework exploding from the meditative fire.

Quite apposite that one of the best ballads ever written should emerge from the furnace of Richard’s performance. Fireworks was always an emotive track, built as it is on such earnest sentiment, and Danny McNamara’s voice fairly tears people’s heart to shreds on this penultimate track; there are group hugs all over the place, making evident the fireworks in this band are nowhere near extinguished.

And so we come to the ultimate closer. The Good Will Out is one of the most rousing rally calls ever recorded, but in a live setting – at the band’s own festival, with a collective of singularly devoted fans facing stage front – this becomes a song that can move mountains. When the singer hurls himself to the front of the stage and pounds out the words: “There must be a time, between the well-meaning, when the good will come out and start the healing”, it becomes almost like a sermon. As if to enforce this, the Reverend McNamara draws out the song’s “la la la” outro like a mantra, the whole band completely silent while he conducts the congregation through one more rousing chorus – raucously confirming their undying devotion.

After a five or six a cappella crowd choruses, the band kicks in with the final outro, Danny McNamara declaring: “We’ve still got it, oh yeah!” And you help but think that the ‘we’ in that sentiment includes each and every person here.


After the band finally leaves the stage, the biggest surprise of the night comes in the form of headliners The Beach Boys – well, at least the nearest approximation of them we’ve ever seen. So accurate is this rendition of California’s finest that this reviewer has to edge closer to the stage to make sure that really isn’t Brian Wilson up there. But bollocks to the truth, best just to make like you’re on a sandy beach somewhere knocking back cocktails and picking up good vibrations. To which Embrace themselves return to the stage to join in with a party-closing rendition of Good Vibrations, the band encircled in a group hug on the far side of the stage and Danny stage front unleashing the inner Beach Boy we always suspected he wanted to be.

By the end, it’s as if a magical vision has been expunged, but the crowd we’re amongst are the sustaining factor, full as they are of the spirit and fervour that we’ve just witnessed. As if to symbolise this, we take ourselves to the side of the main stage, just near where we’re camped. Here, there’s a bonfire still burning, which was earlier lit by Danny McNamara. Long into the night we watch as the flames burn themselves to embers, but the warmth they throw out lasts long after the final sparks have died out.

So it goes.

Stephen Brolan, September 2014


* To vote for the Embrace Secret Gig as best UK festival of 2014, please go to: The festival is nominated in four categories:

– Best New Festival
– Best Small Festival
– Best Family Festival
– Best Grass Roots Festival

 Please feel free to vote for them all.

**An edited version of this article is published in Record Collector magazine in the UK and Filter magazine in the US

Set list:


In The End


The Love It Takes

All You Good Good People

Follow You Home

Come Back To What You Know


Save Me

Yeah You

One Big Family








The Good Will Out

Noah and the Whale – Bestival, Isle Of Wight




Written by Stephen Brolan

And the Heavens opened. And the Earth, with all its sin, corruption and Peaches Geldofs, fell under the wrath of a vengeful God. And verily the people of the world and all its animals got absolutely pissed on. And there followed an almighty flood. And thus was it done…

Don’t panic. The Fly hasn’t gone all Old Testament on your arses. We’re merely reporting on fancy-dress extravaganza Bestival 2008, where it seems the namesake of the band we’re here to interview – that being folk-rocking four-piece Noah And The Whale – has brought the goddamn weather with him. Biblical things are indeed afoot. It’s not so much raining cats and dogs here – it’s actually raining every fucking animal in the world. Two of each, obviously. And it’s here The Fly finds himself, garbed in flowing brown (and getting browner) robe, long grey wig and beard, kitted out in what we consider to be an approximation of non-existent man-of-the-Ark Noah. OK, so he probably didn’t wear glasses or hiking boots, and he almost certainly would have had a big Biblical stick to smite people with, but hey – you can’t get the staff these days. And so thus attired, The Fly trudges through a trail previously traversed by a herd of diarrhoetic woolly mammoths, gingerly unplugging each boot from the shite and looking like Old Man River doing a bizarre slo-mo version of the All Blacks’ haka dance.

Bring me my fucking Ark!


When we eventually arrive at the artists’ enclosure (at the opposite end of where we’re camped, no less), The Fly roams through the throng of beautiful people looking more like a moving shit heap in a grey wig than God’s first lieutenant. Indeed, the band all look somewhat startled when covered-in-crap Noah Fly squelches over in their direction. And before you know it, we’ve opened our gob and said: “Hi, I’m Noah.”

The laugher is warm and generous, which is good cos The Fly feels like a Bible-sized tit.

Taking our place at the table, we’re quickly informed the band’s set has been pulled because the stage they’re supposed to be performing on has sunk. Could this band have a more apt name? But it’s not just the weather providing the deluge surrounding Noah And The Whale at present. With the success of Song of the Summer™ 5 Years’ Time and the hype surrounding the release of debut long-player Peaceful, The World Lays Me Down, a considerable precipitation of adulation seems to be forming a rising tide, with all and sundry seeming to hail (stone) them as the next big thing. Not that this downpour seems to be bothering them much.


“Nothing really feels that different really,” frontman Charlie Fink shrugs. “Apart from maybe at festivals in terms of crowd volume. I mean, the occasional people who have come up to us have been really respectful.”

“We’re not talking Beatlemania here,” quips eager bassist Urby.

Indeed, there immediately seems to be an air of detached nonchalance about the four-piece that belies the industry-driven bustle that encircles them. While there may be a storm brewing, it’s all very much happening outside, while Noah And The Whale shelter together in their own private Ark, somewhat bemused by it all. And as the outside world and the industry at large leapfrog over themselves affixing I-saw-them-first kisses to the band’s collective arse, the group themselves have apparently been watching the skies gather for some time.

“It’s not like we went from jumpers-for-goalposts to Wembley Stadium,” fiddle-playing Tom explains. “It was more of a gradual process, and I suppose that’s kind of made it less of a storm.”

“The whole process is what makes it,” Charlie continues. “It’s hard to see it from an outside point-of-view – people see things differently, saying you’re an overnight success and stuff, and that’s exactly what it wasn’t from our point-of-view. We have put a lot of work in and toured off our own back. But people see it as being handed to us all of a sudden.”

“I feel it’s more deserved in myself that we played all those gigs and we honed our sound,” Charlie’s brother Doug considers. “Now, everything that’s happening is just the magnitude of all that work we put in.”

Urby concludes: “Unless you go through that process of gigging and allowing the songs to evolve naturally, it would be a lot harder to get a fully realised album.”


Having actually achieved that fully realised piece of work way back in February, the band now find themselves slightly puzzled by the excitement surrounding what to them is an old piece of work they considered would scarcely receive anywhere near the attention it has.

“I think people are surprised [by its success] – even the people that backed it,” Charlie says. “I’m certainly surprised! And we’re at that point now that we have the knowledge in our mind that people actually get our music as we go into making the second album. And we’re making the album we want to make – probably quite leftfield and less commercial than the first one.” He pauses. “Even though we never actually thought that would be commercial,” he laughs. “So it’s a weird thing to be going in to make a record that will probably have less appeal, coming on the back of a previous one you never thought would have any appeal in the first place.”

“We went in with a kind of punky attitude and recorded the whole thing in three weeks,” the softly-spoken Tom states. “And I think a similar process is going to happen this time.”

But surely, considers The Fly ‘neath his stupid wig, having the knowledge that there’s a market for their off-kilter approach, and knowing what people like about their music, brings with it a certain pressure?

“I consciously ignore all those thoughts,” Charlie insists firmly. “The songs I’m writing are just a progression of my songwriting and how we play as a band – it’s natural. The influences we have with the new album are definitely bands that don’t sell records, as with the previous album. It’s leftfield music.”

“Also,” Urby punctuates. “I don’t know how you would get together and write something you think someone else would like if you’re not happy with it yourself. You need to make music that’s true to who you are.”

It soon becomes evident that Noah And The Whale frequently throw out conversational diversions towards talk of the second album, as if that’s what they desperately want to talk about – hardly surprising when you consider how long ago the current album was completed, and how overly talked about it must be for them now. Indeed, there’s a tangible sense of animated exuberance when talk turns (is diverted) to the follow-up, making us wonder whether everything that’s exciting all else isn’t, for them, now a bit lived-in.


“Well, that may be true of one or two songs,” Doug concedes. “But each audience you take the songs to always respond differently, and you feed off that and it keeps it fresh. The songs evolve.”

Charlie elaborates: “I don’t believe in that philosophy that the recorded song is the finished product – they always have different angles and you find different ways to approach and interpret them. Like now we’re picking up electric guitars and…”

“Woah!” The Fly orates in Biblical fashion through his big beard. “Noah And The Whale go electric?”

“Noah And The Whale are going bloody grunge,” Charlie grins. “I’m happy for you to run that story, by the way.”

Come on! We might be dressed like an Olympic-level doofus, but still…

A chorus of “no really”s ensues around the table, followed by a worryingly earnest Urby leaning forward and declaring: “We’re not dragging you on at all. There’s about seven songs on that first album with electric guitars and it doesn’t feel unnatural in any way.”

“We’re not an acoustic band,” insists Doug. “It’s just that acoustic music suited those songs.” To which brother Charlie offers up a bizarre explanation coated in a flavour of confession. “The reason the songs sound different is that none of us really know what we’re doing. I mean, Urby’s a bassist playing a harmonium, and he doesn’t even know what a harmonium is!”

“I don’t,” Urby chips in helpfully.

“Things just work in a weird way,” Charlie concludes. “When we write a song, we just go to whatever sound fits with it. And if you can’t play the instrument, it doesn’t matter – just make a sound.”

“The point is,” Urby says pointedly, “that we’re not too familiar with our instruments. When we, for instance, pick up an electric guitar we won’t play electric guitar licks and things you generally associate with it. The best guitar sounds, in my opinion, don’t sound like guitar – they sound like a saxophone or a buzzsaw or whatever.”

A good point Urby has here. Charlie, meanwhile, has a story to elaborate the point. “When I was at school I learned to play jazz guitar,” he remembers. “And my teacher was a total weirdo – I love the guy, though; he’s one of my favourite people ever – and one day he asked me what the most important thing in music was. And he just sat there for about five minutes, silent.” Charlie himself pauses for a second, adding emphasis. “And eventually he said that if you’re trying to play jazz guitar, don’t listen to Devendra Banhart, listen to Charlie Parker or Miles Davis – try and play another instrument on guitar. Basically,” he concludes, “if you’ve heard it all before, it’s boring. And if you’re comfortable with your instrument, it’s not always a good thing.”

Familiarity certainly seems to breed contempt amid NATW’s ranks, and from such skewed approaches and strange teachings great things have been borne in their truly exceptional debut album, which is at once like everything and nothing you’ve heard before. Eccentric yet coherent; folky yet apt to funk your face off; a ray of sunshine dancing behind some very dark clouds indeed, not least in Charlie’s often lugubrious lyrics.

“It’s a mood change record, certainly,” Charlie says of the album’s all-encompassing seasonal schizophrenia. “It’s all meant to be optimistic though. Even the most sombre tracks are optimistic – it’s never defeatist.”


Despite seeming to have a near obsession with kicking the bucket, lyrics such as “Death do not feel the victor/My poor life makes you none the richer” come across as mortal acceptance rather than morbid lament. Small wonder then that, as the storm of hype gathers around them, from which floods of praise are beginning to fall, they retain a sense of detached indifference. Where other bands in the same position might become affected – infected even – by the sense of omnipresent expectation, Noah and the Whale, like their lyrics, appear to be at terms with their musical mortality, nonchalantly accepting of the fact that, despite the downpour, it could all end tomorrow. It’s just something they chose to ignore.

“You don’t want to get involved with much else other than the music,” Urby says. “It’s not like we got in a band to do anything other than the music – and that’s the focus that’s always there.”

“We’re all aware now we’ve got a platform and basically people are gonna hear the songs we make, and that’s exciting,” Charlie concludes. “But I think if you want to be an honest artist and you want to respect those fans, you’ve got to continue doing what you’re doing exactly the way you want. That’s the most honest way – the only way.” He pauses. The rain outside is pummelling on the canvas like some shite metaphor. The Fly takes a mental note. “The deluge of other stuff is irrelevant,” he states. “It’s how you deal with it artistically that counts.”

And with that, The Fly gets his bearded arse up and bids the affable chaps of Noah And The Whale the fondest of farewells, before receiving a last-minute round of generous accolades for our fancy-dress endeavours. “That’s the most dedication we’ve ever seen from an interviewer,” Charlie beams shaking The Fly’s hand, before promising: “Next time, I’ll dress up as a fly.”

It’s a promise we’re gonna hold him to. [Real-time update: Having subsequently met Charlie and friends numerous times, he has never greeted me as an insect].

Back outside, God is still straining 40 days and 40 nights on the piss from his almighty cock. And though the deluge may have sunk their performance tonight, as indeed the tides of expectation may threaten to capsize, Noah And The Whale have all the self-belief and conviction they need to see them through whatever storms lay ahead – an Ark of triumph in a world awash with shite and unworthy animals.

Bring the floods forth…

Stephen Brolan

BUSHFEST – Oh Burgundy

BUSHSTOCK – Oh Burgundy

London, Shepherd’s Bush Ginglik

It sounds like a line from a horror film, but I’m not supposed to be here today (actually, it’s a line from ‘Clerks’, but some might be indifferent to that fact, yeah?). What I’m supposed to be doing is reviewing Field Day festival, but apparently the organisers aren’t down with the giving of passes to important writers who might write something and give it some literary kudos. Not from this fucking pen. In fact, I could even write the world’s quickest review from a non-attendee – organisation: shite; line-up: worse.

Anyway, so instead of that I get a phone call that sounds like it’s coming from inside a brothel. “Do you want to come to Bushfest?”

Wah-wah pedals are going off in my head; “wah-wah” noises from Sid James are joining in. And while it sounds like a bad innuendo from a Carry On film, I’m not having a Field Day today, so I might as well get into some Bush (apologies to my wife-to-be, who is in Boston and will be reading this, with disapproving frown).

Anyway, so I’m not supposed to be here, but then again, most of the best things happen by accident (with the exception of accidents, strangely). And while Bushfest turns out to be about as blue as an orange, I find myself face-to-face with something with an even redder complexion – Oh Burgundy.

Never heard of them before, but I’m not about to forget them. Apart from their heart-stopping performance, they were playing a venue where the gents’ toilet was basically stage right. And, walking in, Mr Journalist, pen in hand, penis close by, I was in desperate need of some backstage wee-wee.

With other bands, perhaps of a less intimate leaning, a shuffling journo with a bursting bladder and knob virtually on the loose, might have been less of an intrusion. But this music just begs your attention. And while Oh Burgundy are rendering their souls to the whole venue, yours truly is rendering himself the most conspicuous pisser on the face of the planet. And while this venue has possibly the friendliest, most courteous staff ever – even the doorman was loving my hat (erm, maybe he was the head bouncer?), I am seriously of the opinion you should not have a toilet next to a performance.

Passing the stage (and virtually passing water) I felt like part of the act. I just thank my lucky arse I didn’t have diarrhoea – I would have been an added, superfluous wind instrument.

Anyway, Oh Burgundy are banging out their stuff, and I’m feeling burgundy coming out after banging out my stuff. I felt like a traffic light on red, but perhaps that was compounded by the fact everyone was absolutely stationary – dumbfounded by what was happening on stage.

Recalling Sigur Ros and Fionn Regan (who plays later, but not next to a toilet), this duo from Belgium have just sheer beauty on their side – their soulful acoustics and close-harmonies rendering adjacent toilets redundant by the fact you cannot take your eyes or ears off of them. It could be their dualistic vocals (imagine if the Pretenders were for real); it could even be the fact that a simple acoustic guitar and a keyboard can feel like two sections of one beating heart. But that’s hyperbolic shite. The simple fact is, Oh Burgundy do simplicity so well it becomes almost complex – simply because you have to work out why it’s so obviously brilliant.

Perhaps it’s because I’m missing my lady, but when a song like ‘Fragile’ strikes up – the track produced by Mr Come-To-Bushfest caller of earlier (referred to as Mr Howie by the band) –  there’s a resonance there that lasts long after the final chord is struck. Imagine feeling distraught about feeling elated – a paradox wherein your happiness makes you so aware of yourself that you realise you’re essentially alone. This is music that could soundtrack the happiest time of your life, or the worst. In my case, I’m standing near a toilet, with my wife-to-be missing, and not in favour of the beer on offer.

When this sort of music hits you at that moment, it haunts you for a while. And with a frontman whose voice, regardless of reverb or sound effects, feels like an absolute echo, the acoustics last long into the night – long after the toilet venue has been flushed away.

And if that’s not enough – which, being a sadist, it isn’t – the encore consists of more skeletal harmonies: two voices bouncing off each other that, in the context of performance, sounds like it’s not actually being performed. These voices sound like the world exhaling – like they’ve always existed. And by the final track, a rendering of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata put to a trippy beat and primordial bassline, I’ve forgotten all about everything I was preoccupied with before.

With this kind of music, there are no boundaries. The magic of the performance is all there is. And while Oh Burgundy flourish under the spotlights of a unworthy venue’s red lights, I just blush with astonishment that this sort of music still has the power to obfuscate the presence of toilets, stage right.

By the end, I have to go again. Performance way too stirring.

Stephen Brolan

NB. It was actually Bushstock, but for some reason I had Bushfest in my head.