Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Rod Tops the Bill at Hard Rock Calling 2011

After a massive Glastonbury 2011 ticket-obtaining fail, I was partially consoled by the prospect of attending Hard Rock Calling in London’s very own Hyde Park. It’s like a festival, yeah, but you can go home and have a shower afterwards, not just daub yourself with wet wipes. Result. Having missed out on tickets for Saturday headliners Bon Jovi, I was still very much looking forward to catching Kaiser Chiefs and The Killers on Friday, and even more excited about Stevie Nicks and Rod Stewart on Sunday (this is betraying my age).

Arriving on Friday in a rainy fug, it was clear that Hyde Park-goers could expect to share Glastonbury’s damp and muddy weather conditions. Uh oh. Things had taken a turn for the worse; we had forgotten our waterproofs.

Cheered marginally by the gratis cider (thank you, Press Area), it was with bedraggled trepidation that we trudged towards the main stage in a bid to be rejuvenated by cheeky anthemists Kaiser Chiefs. This better be good, I thought, as I wiped precipitation mixed with eye makeup from my face. It turned out I needn’t have worried.

Ricky Wilson & Co, sensing the crowd wanted a pick-me-up, took us all back to those Indie halcyon days of 2005 with their sing along belter Every Day I Love You Less And Less. Energetic on stage as ever, the Kaisers brought a much-needed smile to the drenched audience with their madcap capers.

Following this classic with a song from their new album, The Future is Medieval, could have been a risky move but luckily Little Shocks is a great tune. With its eerie ‘80s keyboard riffs, it sounds like the product of a more sinister and rockier Human League.

The highlights of the Kaiser Chiefs set were, perhaps predictably, the ones that we all know and love. Ruby, Never Miss A Beat, I Predict A Riot and the well -judged finale Oh My God brought the house down and got everybody shouting out the lyrics with gusto.

After a brief cider and bog break, it was with renewed vigour that we returned to the main stage for The Killers. Front man Brandon Flowers summed up the whole ethos of the night with well-known opener Glamourous Indie Rock & Roll, although I confess to feeling less than glamourous myself, standing there shivering in my wet Converse. Flowers was clearly marveling at the British audacity of withstanding treacherous weather conditions in the name of Rock. ‘What are you doing here? Didn’t you get tickets for Wimbledon?’ He quipped.

The Killers kept spirits high with a very hit-heavy set that included Somebody Told Me, Smile Like You Mean It, Losing Touch, Human, A Dustland Fairytale and Mr Brightside, accompanied intermittently by fireworks coming out of the sides of the stage. There was even a shower of confetti into the audience during an up-tempo All These Things That I’ve Done.

No fan could have been disappointed with such a comprehensive showcase of the band’s talents, which was supplemented by a surprise rendition of Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The generous encore sealed the deal, with Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine and When You Were Young rounding off a high-octane set that managed to go un-dampened by the horizontal rain.

Arriving at Hyde Park on Sunday it was SPF20 not waterproofs we needed. Phew! What a Scorcher! as the red-tops would have it.

Chilling in the press area with a pear cider while listening to Barenaked Ladies and Mike & The Mechanics on the Pepsi Max stage proved just the ticket for steeling myself for the main event, namely: Stevie Nicks followed by Rod ‘The God’ Stewart on the main stage.

As a huge Fleetwood Mac fan, I was delighted to hear Stevie in fine voice singing Rhiannon and Dreams. She also looked amazing, her lustrous golden hair shining in the unusual sunlight.

As Stevie’s set drew to a close with the melodic Landslide I looked around and saw that, despite some unfortunate cases of sunburn, the crowd was on top form and eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘The Tartan Crooner’, as my friend Bob calls him.

Rod opened his two hour set with soul stormer Love Train from the O’Jays and Sam Cooke’s Havin’ A Party, songs which were as glitzy as the first of his many luxurious jackets that evening.

Rich vocals on The First Cut Is the Deepest proved that Rod has definitely still got it. This being one of my absolute favourite songs, I don’t mind telling you, I was fit to swoon.

Next, Rod upped the tempo with Baby Jane, a number that couldn’t fail to get everyone singing along. The first guest appearance of the evening saw Stevie Nicks returning to the stage for a duet on Young Turks. The performance was a perfect encore for Nicks and allowed Stewart to show off his trademark suavity with the ladies.

But the real splendour came when Rod introduced to the stage ‘me old mucker’ Ronnie Wood amid jokes about the pair’s advancing years; ‘Bruce Forsythe is up next!’ Rod teased.

Ronnie thrilled fans with his collaboration on Maggie May and Faces stonker Stay With Me. The meeting of these titans of Rock was truly a momentous occasion. Older they may be, but Wood and Stewart still look and sound amazing, and bring a whole new meaning to growing old disgracefully.

Hot Legs and Do Ya Think I’m Sexy? seemed the natural conclusion to this phenomenal set, we would have been happy with that. But Rod, pulling out all the stops, sent us off into the night with a dulcet rendition of Sailing.

Elated and star-struck, I left Hyde Park on Sunday thanking god that I hadn’t got tickets for Glastonbury.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Feis Festival 2011: Dylan and Van Morrison Rock Out Finsbury Park

With music royalty Bob Dylan and Van Morrison topping the bill at the London Feis, it was naturally with great excitement that I offered to take one for the team and go along as a representative of UK Festival Guides.

Saturday 18 and Sunday 19th June saw the return to Finsbury Park of the Fleadh Festival after a seven year break and with a new name: the Feis.

Checking the weather forecast on Saturday revealed that us Feis-goers could expect ‘light rain showers.’ Oh BBC Weather, how optimistic you were. Waterproofs packed (just say No to umbrellas at festivals), my partner in crime and I trudged through the horizontal rain towards a mobbed and extremely muddy Finsbury Park.

First port of call was obviously the bar. Cider being the ONLY festival beverage, two pints were duly purchased for the princely sum of £8.40. At that price it should have been served to us by a leprechaun. At the end of a rainbow. With a free bag of gold.

Off we popped to the main stage to see everybody’s favourite Springsteen tribute band, The Gaslight Anthem. The New Jersey four-piece rockers warmed the crowd up with anecdotal sing-a-longs like Great Expectations, The ’59 Sound and Even Cowgirls Get The Blues. Some tunes from their newer record, American Slang, were less known by the audience, but just as good on the ear. A couple of songs in, front man Brian Fallon told the crowd that he hoped the rain would hold off for the rest of their set… two seconds before the rain clouds drenched us all from head to toe.

Shane MacGowan attracted a huge following at the tent, many people eschewing The Cranberries on the open-air main stage for the relative warm and dry of a covered arena. The tenuous-toothed Pogues rascal sang an uncharacteristically lucid Dirty Old Town and delighted the audience with his rendition of the Neil Diamond classic Cracklin’ Rosie. The only disappointment for MacGowan fans, as overheard at the tent being; ‘I don’t think he’s drunk enough.’

The hiatus between Shane and headliner Bob Dylan allowed for a trip or two to the cider bar, a long queue for the loos and anticipation to mount among the mostly inebriated revellers. I had never experienced Dylan Live, and as he’s now in his 70th year, I imagine this will be my one and only chance.

Heading back to the main stage, it seems that the whole of London is assembled to witness possibly his last ever UK performance. I wonder if there’s some sort of secret affiliation between Dylan and The Tallest People In The World. As he finally takes the stage amid rapturous applause, all I can make out is his beacon-like white hat. Why no big screens at the sides of the stage, Feis organisers?

Bob certainly seemed to enter into the Irish spirit of things, energetically switching between keys, harmonica and guitar during his 90- minute set.

On paper the set list was every Dylan fan’s dream. The opening ballad It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue was followed up with iconic tunes galore. Songs like Tangled Up In Blue, Simple Twist of Fate and appropriately, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, were not immediately recognisable from their opening verses. This was mainly because Dylan sang a different version of everything, elongating some choruses and rattling through others at break-neck speed. The whole set was delivered in the vocal style of a Sesame Street character doing Dylan. In short, he seemed to be parodying a caricature of himself.

Like A Rolling Stone got the crowd chanting along, it was just that we were all singing the Bob Dylan original, while the man himself was sticking to the cartoon version. All Along The Watchtower and the finale Blowin’ In The Wind went down a storm once we’d worked out which songs they were and gave up trying to sing along.

As day one of Feis came to a close, I felt mixed emotions about the headline act. On one hand I felt privileged to have seen Dylan, one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known, in concert. On the other hand, his performance was not the work of an icon I know and love.

It was with some relief, after Saturday’s precipitation-fest that we woke on Sunday morning to blue-ish skies.

The Feis website led us to believe that Thin Lizzy would be playing the main stage before Van Morrison. This turned out not to be the case, Van proving to be both the headliner and the penultimate act. Contrary sod.

With only a few minutes to spare before Van-o’-clock, we rushed to the bar and hot-footed it over to the main stage. The festival seemed a lot less crowded on Sunday. Whether people were put off by Saturday’s constant rain, or were only interested in Dylan, I can’t be sure.

One thing is for sure, those who didn’t go to Feis on Sunday missed out on a spectacular event.

The sun shone as Van Morrison took to the stage with his brass band and placed himself behind a massive golden microphone. Baby Please Don’t Go was an invigorating opener, getting everybody singing and jigging along. Following up with rock essentials Here Comes The Night, Brown Eyed Girl, Real Real Gone and Moondance, Van flaunted a voice which is as rich, colourful and pitch-perfect as ever, if not more so.

Wedding staple Have I Told You Lately? brought a tear to many a girl’s eye, while my own reverie was broken during Wavelength when I had to shout at a drunken wanker for nearly pushing me over and, more seriously, spilling a bit of my pint. Morrison’s performance of In The Garden was another highlight. The beauty of the musical arrangement had an almost hypnotic effect on the previously raucous audience. Gloria was the perfect finale to a perfect set. Van Morrison, perhaps modestly, exited the stage before the end of the song, leaving his musicians to take the applause for his stellar performance.

Just when you think things can’t get any more exciting, there’s still Thin Lizzy to come! The band performed their hits Jailbreak, Whiskey In The Jar and The Boys Are Back In Town with more energy than could rightly be expected of them, last thing on a Sunday and to a tired (not to say booze-worn), rapidly dwindling crowd.

That was the London Feis 2011. Wonderful, if a little bit soggy.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Moshi Moshi! DIY Sushi!

In these times of financial penury, tightening the belt can sometimes feel like suffocating yourself, especially when it comes to the little 'luxury' of dining out.

If you're a city dweller and immersed in the cut-and-thrust of full time employment, eating out is more of a lifeline than an unnecessary extravagance. With jobs proving more difficult to come by in the first place, and still harder to maintain, many inner-city professionals feel that they have to go the extra mile in the workplace. Often this means clocking out late in order to tackle an extra workload, if only to prove to your boss that you're worth your salt.

Few people, having left the office at 7pm will have the time, the inclination or the energy to rustle up a tasty and fulfilling dinner at 8 or 9, after a long, stressful day. Some will opt for the trusty old M&S ready meal, others might choose to sack off supper altogether. I know that, from my own experiences of post-work victuals, a bowl of crisps and a glass of wine in front of The Apprentice often sufficed. Nine times out of ten, many will decide that somebody else can do the washing up tonight, and arrange with their partner, friends or family to eat out. Yes, going to a restaurant is still something of a reward for a job well done, much like popping to the pub with your work mates on a Friday night, feeling like you've earned it. This is clearly a trend that has been noticed by chains like Pizza Express and Strada, companies who, among others, offer discounts like 2 for 1 or buy one get one free on main courses to their punters during the week.

The same principle applies to the London-weighted Taste Card business. Winers and diners can purchase a Taste Card for the price of a meal for two at a mid-range eatery and enjoy half price dining for an entire year at selected restaurants. The only catch is that, in most cases, you can only use your card from Sunday evenings until Thursday. This is a clever trick from the marketers of restaurant vouchers and Taste Card. Obviously their business is assured at weekends, when tourists, wealthy Londoners and passing visitors come flocking. The main thing is to keep overworked, underpaid, city dwellers coming running back for more food-related bargains that will make their stressed out existences seem easier to swallow.

When I first joined the ranks of the unemployed, almost eighteen months ago, there was no discernible belt tightening when it came to eating out. Going to restaurants had become an integral part of my social life, and this proved to be a hard habit to break (cue that Chicago song being in my head for the next three weeks), regardless of the small barrier of losing my income. Budgeting did not improve during the months I spent travelling around South America. Well, I was hardly going to forgo Argentina’s famous steaks, the odd Chilean pisco sour or a spot of Peruvian llama stew in favour of a cost-effective homemade sandwich with a cup of tea, now was I?

Having been without a cash injection for some considerable time, my bank balance finally screamed at me to stop with the extravagant eating out already and get real about my finances. So I bought a Taste Card for the nominal sum of £30. It was on special offer you understand, and obviously I will only go out for dinner now if I can use the card for a hefty discount on my food bill. And if it’s a special occasion, like a birthday, anniversary or a Wednesday, for example. But, whichever way you look at it, restaurant dining is still regrettably a lot more expensive than self-catering, discount or not.

So how is a nouveau pauper to eat in the style to which she is accustomed without breaking the bank? Three letters –D.I.Y.

Sushi, containing (hopefully) the freshest raw fish possible, and being painstakingly rolled, seasoned and presented by professional sushi chefs, is very much a ‘luxury’ product and can be prohibitively pricey at a Japanese restaurant. But if you’re willing to improvise on ingredients, using smoked salmon and mackerel, rather than their fresh counterparts, and perhaps compromise on aesthetics, there is a way to enjoy your favourite maki on the cheap.

What you’ll need: Shopping List for 2 people:

· Half box of sushi rice: 79p

· Sushi nori (seaweed) 6 sheets: £1.89

· Small pack of smoked salmon: £2

· Small pack of peppered mackerel: £2

· Veg – cucumber, avocado and pepper, approx: £1

· Wasabi for seasoning. Potent stuff, so a tube lasts a long while: £1.58

· Jar of pickled ginger. See above for longevity: £1.58

· Bottle of soy sauce – a little goes a long way: 76p

· Roll mats for creating your masterpiece X2: £2.36

If you’re a vegetarian sushi lover, than things will be a lot cheaper. But if, like me you love fish, than the damage is still less than £7 each. This translates into roughly 24 pieces of maki (the sushi roll wrapped in seaweed) per person, more than enough for even the healthiest of appetites. The equivalent at a Japanese restaurant would be at least double that. So, I hear you ask: What recession?

And now the real fun begins. As Oasis once espoused, bang in the middle of a drug addled nineties – ‘you gotta roll with it’. And so you have, although, unlike the narcotics favoured by Britpop ‘s finest, I don’t think sushi had quite reached British shores in those days.

The method: So, you take your roll mat, placing it on a sturdy, flat table. Put your seaweed sheet atop this – shiny side down, as far as I can gather. Now spread a big spoonful of sushi rice (cooked as per the pack instructions) over the half of sushi nori (seaweed sheet) that is closest to you. Pat the sticky rice down to make way for your fillings. These can be any of the above ingredients or something totally different, but each to his own. Don’t over fill your roll, but don’t be too stingy with the contents either. Having done that, you need to take the side of the roll mat that’s closest to you and, well, roll it over away from you, encompassing all your ingredients.

If you’ve ever rolled a cigarette in your life, this will come a great deal easier to you, as my friends Anna and Clemmie sagely observed.

Next, you have to tighten your grip around the contents of the roll, compacting them into a sushi-shaped parcel. Then all you have to do is complete the circle, rolling the rest of the seaweed around with the aid of your mat to make a beautiful sushi roll. Once you have your (not necessarily even) roll, the next stage is to apportion it properly. Ideally, you’ll be aiming for eight one - inch thick segments. Pop your roll onto a flat surface, get a very sharp, preferably hot, wet knife, and slice through your sushi roll with gusto. And there you have it. Season with wasabi, soy and ginger, close your eyes, and you could be in any decent sushi emporium, except that you wouldn’t have had the joy of creating your own brand of luxury cuisine for dinner. Or for less than £7, for that matter. And you won’t have to tip at the end of the evening. Or do the whole pretentious ‘would you like to try the wine?’ pantomime with the waiter. And that’s a bonus. Credit crunch or not.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Vintage Priscillas review, written for Time Out.

The Priscillas

The Windmill, Brixton, Tue June 21

A gig with The Damned and Glasto under their leopard print belts, The Priscillas have all but outgrown these intimate little venues.

Tall beehives, high leg kicks, big personalities and voices to match. The only thing small about them are their red leather miniskirts and 1234! Ramones-esque micro belters. ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ fans watch out for their forthcoming single, 'All my friends are Zombies'. It's guaranteed to kitsch you up side ya head.