I’ve been to a few gigs over the years but I can’t think of many occasions where I’ve given much thought to whoever organised it, beyond perhaps.. which idiot chose this support band or the running order says stage time 9…Its 9.30 now!
After “organising” (in the loosest sense of the word) Oxjam Walthamstow I’ll forever have a respect for promoters and their secret language of backlines, di’s, breakables & get-ins.
In the months between committing to put an Oxfam gig and the night itself I’ve gone from angst to wild eyed panic. At any moment a banquet of worry on which to feast… will the bands you love agree to play… wow they agreed, now what order to play in, which venue, how do I find kit cheaply, create publicity on a zero budget…
By the day itself I was a whirling dervish, dashing to collect a microwave to raffle, stressing over whether the children’s “You’re a star (cute bunnyrabbit)” handstamp or office envelope date stamp is best suited to marking punters. Arriving at the venue slightly late with bits of drumkit squeezed into every nook of my Nissan Micra I was so distracted by a mental checklist of things to do that I bumped the car into the car park wall. On cue the passenger window gave way, slid down with a clunk and refused to countenance the prospect of shutting again.
Anyway you get the picture, less Bill Graham, more Frank Spencer… on roller skates… going under a bus.
Attending a really well organised Oxjam elsewhere in North London a couple of nights earlier hadn’t exactly quelled my fears. Listed in Time Out (unlike me despite numerous attempts) it spanned 3 rooms with inspired comedy, an eclectic mix of live music, and DJ’s (including Coldcut’s Matt Black!!) It was genuinely superb from the soul of Nike Jemiyo backed by south London’s answer to The Dapkings to the amusingly titled Yorkshire Rapper (Listen to “Up North” – up north up north up north).
It’s the little things, so many little things, that trip you up.
Take the picture (above) featuring my puzzled attempts to construct a desk for CDJ’s out of empty beer crates and a stray coffee table, while in the background the sound man knocks up a wire for the mixers non-standard output. Meanwhile it’s an hour and a half before doors, 4 acts to soundcheck and time seems to be the only thing rushing.
The soundguy’s so laid back he appears to move in as if filmed in timelapse. It stressed the hell out of me but was thankfully merely the calmness and consummate skill that comes with having seen it and done it all before… “it’ll be fine” he reassured. Sure enough only 20 minutes after the advertised time, the doors were flung open and fortified by a glass of dry white, the volunteer on the door began to take punters money. Punters! Actual real people have come… and there are some I dont know by name.
THE MELTING ICE CAPS (Above)
I’d love to be able to give you a band by band review but the entire night exists to me only as some vague blur so if anyone wants to tell me what it was like please do!
All I can say with any certainty is thank god for Akira The Don, not only for performing but for his wildly enthusiastic hosting. He set the tone introducing The Melting Ice Caps (or Melty Ice Caps as he took to calling them) as his new favourite band… “OH MYYY GODD they’re incredible!“.
Described by a friend as “Divine Comedy channelling Morrissey in Marc Almond’s boudoir while wearing a Pet Shop Boy’s scarf” I’ve seen David Shah’s Melting Ice Caps a few times. Most notably a hilariously fractious performance, accompanied only by a DVD player in a sunken pit in the corner of a boozer. At the end of a truncated set Shah quite rightly declared “Im never playing here again“.
Thankfully for Oxjam Shah took full advantage of The Standard’s unusually wide stage with the full band Ice Cap experience, now with added Sax. New tracks “Join The Dots” and “In Bloom” were given an airing ahead of an EP in the new year, along with many of their nine “mostly free to download” singles (Grab them here).
A stray set list at the end of the night revealed that even with a bumper 45 minute slot there was no room for the superb “Pavlovian Boy“, or singles “Being No One” and the melancholic magnificence of the breakup song “Hard To Get“. As ever it ended with “Selfish Bachelor“, the diamond in a jewel encrusted crown of bittersweet pop songs. “You’ve been the best audiences we’ve had all year” said Shah before adding “although this is only the third time we’ve played…“.
For some reason #oxjamwalthamstow wasn’t trending worldwide at this point but word of the mighty Ice Caps did spread into the twitterverse with the local MP tweeting from Westminster:
Mise En Scene, Through a prism, Join the dots
Strike in the dark
our lovely afternoon
le cafe et les hommes, in bloom, ohio
between eros and agape
Barbarossa (Italian for “red beard”) has been around in various guises since 2006, and recorded the first and so far only MusicLikeDirt Live session earlier in the year during a brief sojourn under his real name James Mathe. Most recently “Stones” a track featuring Jon Hopkins from the 2006 LP “Sea Like Blood” LP featured on the hit US series “How I Met Your Mother“. Fans of the show filled chat rooms with plea’s like “Help! I need to know what that song at the end of the last episode was… I want to play it at my wedding!!“. Basically the man’s got a beautiful voice, what more is there to say? That voice was even more to the fore as this was a solo stripped down performance, just James with his instruments spread out across 3 low tables.
The gig took place days before he was due to head to the hills outside Manchester to record the next Barbarossa LP at the Analogue Catalogue Vintage Recording studio (with Adem on production duties). He can’t however be totally averse to digital technology as for a final flourish James took the slogan “there’s an app for that” literally and played “Pallyacho” backed only by his iphone. One of the best versions of one of my favourite tracks of his.
Meanwhile someone was replying to Stella:
James Mathe – “Pallyacho (Home Demo)”
I should really self promote with a clip from the MLD session, but for my money you cant beat this wind swept roof top rendition of “The Load” – “I will not ever take this for granted, I am forever in your hands”.
We’ve had Indie, we’ve had soul, now the evening moved into its hip-hop segment. By 10.30 The Standard would be raining rappers, but a gentle start first for those who perhaps profess to not like rap. Tonight they were to be converted, charmed, sucked in by the witty insightful lyrics and rare talent of Steven Camden aka Polarbear.
With rehersals imminent for his one man 11 night run at Camden’s Roundhouse I was amazed and unbelievably excited that Polar agreed to play in the first place, especially a set, 90% of which had never been performed live. 90% is also about the amount I missed, due to a stint sorting tickets on the door, and organising the raffle! I did however finally manage to get a copy of some Polar on vinyl. Back in 2009 Polarbear and DJ Session “foolishly” pressed 500 copies of their collaboration “The Session & The Bear EP” and as Polar tells it the majority of which now live under their respective beds. They had a dozen to give away, and unsurprisingly weren’t short of takers.
PolarBear – ‘David (Player Piano mix)’ (MP3)
At the end of the evening I heard so many variations of “I cant stand rap but Polarbear was simply amazing“.
If you were one of those people be sure to see his one man show “OldMe” at The Roundhouse from the 21st November.
AKIRA THE DON & GUESTS (Above)
And finally the host with the most Akira The Don, single handedly helming the whole shebang, manning his merchandise stall, cajoling people to buy raffle tickets, all while rocking cowboy boots and a transformers cap. Actually maybe its best to draw a discreet veil over the raffle, many people helped selling tickets and local firms donated an eclectic range of prizes but it didn’t quite go to plan. It started well as Akira thrust a box of Quality Street to the sky like it was the Jules Rimey declaring “all this stuff is cool but we all know this is what you really want“. The first winner was drawn but no one quite believed their ears when he yelled “You’ve won all this stuff..everything” and then proceeded to throw the rest of the tickets into the crowd and launch into his set! What can I say, blame the organiser, it was a genuine mixup!
Akira was joined by DJ/rapper Jack Nimble, Marvin The Martian, as well as what would’ve been a surprise guest – had he not announced it on twitter – American poet/activist/rapper B Dolan. I can safely say the Standard stage has never held so many rappers in all its history, or have so many rappers ever performed alongside a trestle table stacked with a microwave, 2000AD comics, an assortment of booze and 24 cans of Irn-Bru!!! Tonight Walthamstow we give you rap’n'raffle.
Im not sure who was more pleased when B Dolan sent an out of the blue tweet saying “Im in the UK, I could rock a little set ting at Oxjam if you want“, me or Akira The Don? As he succinctly put it “He’s ACE!!!!!!“. True to his word Dolan arrived, along with tour-mate Scroobius Pip (or as someone whispered to me..I think Ive seen Dan Le Sac here!) The Don graciously welcomed Dolan to the stage to perform a fantastic live take on Buddy Peace’s Redux of “Earthmovers“.
What little I saw of Akira’s set I witnessed from the middle of the stage where I was attempting to perform the 6ft6 bloke dismantles a drumkit right behind the main act without being noticed trick with little success. I did hear “BabyDoll” Akira’s gloriously upbeat tribute to his new wife, and I was as touched and uplifted by it as a man surreptitiously trying to unscrew a bass drum can be. A local studio offered a reduced rate for the hire on the condition they had to be back by 1130 so after 2 rushed car journeys I returned to find Akira still in full swing.
Akira The Don – “Thanks For All The AIDS (NY Master)”
B Dolan returned to the stage along with Marvin The Martian for what seemed like a set closing blast through the maddeningly addictive Elastica sampling “BOOOMMM!!” By now it was almost 11.30pm and the numbers if not the enthusiasm were thinning out a bit but Akira still attempted one final triumphant crowd surf.
“Thats the least number of people Ive ever seen being crowd surfing on before” said an awed B Dolan, “you were surfing on like one guy!”
“Hey I make records and I break records” retorted Akira.
Here’s a selection from Akira The Don’s brand new Mixtape tribute to Manga Comics: I can’t tell you if he performed any of these live but as with all Don tapes its well worth a listen and his 2nd Stephen Hague produced LP “The Life Equation” was well worth the epic wait!
A final thanks to the huge list of people who helped me raise around £620 for Oxfam, the 70ish people who came down out on a Wednesday in Walthamstow, all the bloody brilliant acts who gave their time, friends, neighbours and work colleagues who facebooked, raffle ticketed, and manned the door. Harriet (and Adrian) for the splendid photos. My brother for the poster and generally being the brunt of my panic… the list could go on and on. Thankfully all the artists who played got a good response, and hopefully gained some new fans. On Facebook Akira The Don responded to a very kind comment from The Melting Ice Caps keyboard player by declaring that I was “a G!!! a G!!!, a G!!! a G!!!” Having consulted my big book of street slang for the almost 40′s I’ve discovered this is a good thing and not in fact a comparison with former Bucks Fizz member Bobby G.
THE STANDARD MUSIC VENUE
A last mention to The Standard Music Venue, a part of this community for decades and one which will be sadly missed when it closes its doors for the last time in December (2011).
Its yet another mark of the disregard and contempt Waltham Forest Council have for the people living in this borough, as The Standard joins Walthamstow Dogs, the EMD cinema, etc etc on the rotting and closed list. Its difficult to work out if its corruption, incompetence or both but I emailing Paul at The Standard in 2005 to ask if he was aware the council had circulated a plan for the area with no mention of The Standard but a huge pink blob in its place for a plaza and of course “landmark” tower blocks. Back came the reply: “I personally neither received an invite or a brochure. It is sad that this council has never recognised the Standard or given any recognition for what we do. We entertain thousands of people a year”. At a later planning meeting, one of the council appointed developers responded to my question about the numbers of people who attend the Standard by saying “our research shows the majority of the Standard’s customers come from outside the borough”. People coming to E17 from elsewhere, give me the keys to the bulldozer I’ll take it down myself!
To this day the council refer to the venue as “The Standard Public House”, so much easier to write it off as just a boozer, not the only dedicated music venue in the borough. After many complaints they inserted a waffly paragraph about having an aim “to re-provide, if possible, The Standard Music Venue within the new development”. It recognised the venue’s importance as an essential part of the “night time economy” but provided no actual plan or promise to work to keep The Standard.
I’m privileged to have the opportunity to put on a night at The Standard and raise some money in the process but once the stage empties for that final time, the area will be left with either a another Turkish Supermarker or longer term 1000′s packed into towerblocks.