The Levellers – Under the Big Top, Graves Park, Sheffield, 12th July 2013 – for Toast Magazine
It’s a balmy evening in Graves Park. The acoustic duo Bad Cardigan are laid back and summery; perfect for sitting on the grass with a pint of ale. Bison’s support slot gets people moving: they’ve been rocking parties in Sheffield for almost a decade and their cheeky, brass-led songs always guarantee a great time.
The Levellers play a glorious, crowd-pleasing set: for hard-core fans; people who haven’t seen them since the 90s, and new converts. The band look grizzled, but their energetic punk attitude makes every song sounds fresh: tracks from their latest album ‘Static on the Airwaves’ go down as brilliantly as old classics from ‘Levelling the Land’; from air punching stompers like ‘Riverflow’ to the reflective ‘Men an Tol’. The fans dance and sing along, knowing every word. A stunning lightshow and kilted didgeridoo player complete the experience. Singer Mark Chadwick has the whole audience making ‘devil horns’ for their definitive encore, ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’.
The Sherlocks – the Leadmill, Sheffield, 6th July 2013 – for Toast Magazine
Tonight, the Leadmill is dressed up for a great night: local and fiercely loyal to the Sherlocks; a knot of lads already tight to the stage, chanting with their hands in the air even before the band start playing. People clearly love this band.
The Sherlocks have confidence beyond their years. Funky bass and tight drumming lends the rhythm section a dance-crossover sound, and the two guitarists trade riffs and frantic chords in style. The call-and-response vocals delivered with spirit. The songs are catchy, with sing-along choruses, and slick endings with crashing chords and drums.
There’s a real passion here and their sound is tinged with mod flavours and a folky soulfulness. The Sherlocks need to move away from their Arctic Monkeys influenced sound to find their own voice. But their sheer enthusiasm and commitment should see them reach success.
Dizraeli and the Small Gods, Le Juki and the Allstar Revolution
Sheffield O2, Thursday 30th May 2013
As the early evening crowd trickle into the O2, the Allstar Revolution takes to the stage. Some of the die-hard Sheffield fans have come along, but many of the audience are new to the Revolution’s blend of reggae, afrobeat and ska. Singer Kweku takes to the stage in a red onesie, Santa hat and shades; to the surprise of the audience and his band mates. He wishes everyone a “Merry Christmas”. The three backing singers and the guitarist are also decked out in red.
The set begins with a slow, soulful ballad, with an R&B vibe, gradually building up with Kweku toasting on the mic and funky basslines from Ed. The crowd start to dance as the set builds up with ‘Nice and Slow’; smooth backing vocals and the jazzy keyboards building up the atmosphere. Kweku invites the audience to bounce around and people are really getting into the Allstar Revolution’s feel-good vibe.
“Feeling Irie” is a summery reggae song, which hits the spot, although we’re in a dark venue and it’s been an unseasonably cold day. Backing vocalist Diddley Dee twirls around in a swirly red dress and Kweku unleashes his opera singing for the first time this evening. He grabs a guy from the audience to sing with him.
The harmonies on their gospel-style medley “When the Saints go Marching in / Swing Low Sweet Chariot / Daisy, Daisy” are crisp and perfect and Cox Star Papa really lets rip on guitar. “Words are Strong” slowly builds up, until Kweku stops and gives it the reggae “rewind” treatment, before starting again at a faster pace. Kweku goes into a soul/opera frenzy, reminiscent of the legendary Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
The band reminds us that their song “High Grade” is about getting high grades in school, kids! The pace picks up further with some crazy ska dancing and djembe-playing. By the last song, “Crazy”, the audience are dancing enthusiastically and singing along. This was the Allstar Revolution’s most prestigious gig so far and it was a triumph, establishing new fans in their home city and from further afield. People at the gig will be have the Allstar Revolution’s songs as “earworms” for a long time.
Le Juki are a quirky three-piece, comprising Kassia Zermon AKA Bunty, on vocals and percussion. The percussion is a little unusual as she plays a wooden box and a large coolbox; the sort of thing usually used for keeping your beer and sausages cold. Its potential as an instrument must have been discovered on a camping trip. The other band members are Lee Westwood with his beautiful acoustic guitar playing and subtle vocals; and Jules Arthur, a classically trained viola player and experimental synth player. The vocal harmonies are spell-binding, combined with analogue synth loops. The sound is thoughtful acoustic folk music with a weird electronic twist. Lee and Jules are also members of tonight’s headline band, Disraeli and the Small Gods.
They play a song with a chorus Eat! Eat! Eat!, combining jazz scat-singing, Django Reinhardt style guitar playing and deranged synth noises. The most intriguing moment of the gig is when Kassia puts a tray on top of the coolbox and sets off various wind-up toys in time with the music, playing a kazoo and tiny toy maracas that must have come from a Christmas cracker. The toys generate a gently evolving sound.
The songs are surreal ad strangely moving. There’s a song about “drowning in a dream”, and it is a very dream-like sound; the song starting with a hand-bell and dreamy, folky vocals. There’s even a song about “an old man waking up in a forest and realising that he’s still pissed”. The set climaxes with human beat-boxing, intense female vocals and the Korg synthesiser in overdrive.
I didn’t know much about Dizraeli and the Small Gods before the gig. I’d heard that they combined folk with hip hop but I wasn’t sure how that would sound. They certainly seem to have an enthusiastic following in Sheffield. Singer Dizraeli chats easily to the audience, explaining that he’s recently had an operation on his larynx, which is why this gig was postponed from an earlier date, and why he’s sticking to the rapping tonight, leaving the vocals to singer and flautist Cate Ferris.
From Bristol, the band combine a classic trip-hop sound with DJ Downlow on turntables, combined with folk instruments: flute, double-bass, viola and acoustic guitar. Dizraeli’s hip-hop blurs the line with poetry. I’m entranced by a heart-breaking duet; about a man working long hours away from his lover; combining Cate’s dreamy folky vocals with harsh reality in Dizraeli’s replies.
There’s a “big up” to Stainsby Folk Festival, the legendary long-running folk festival in Chesterfield, where the band played in 2012. A group in the audience saw Dizraeli and the Small Gods at the festival and have even made their own t-shirts to wear to the gig. Dizraeli is surprised and impressed, as the band haven’t actually got any t-shirts for sale.
Flute and complex drum rhythms from Paul Gregory take folk rock to a whole new level. At times, it’s as if Scroobius Pip has collided with Fairport Convention. The songs are funny and poignant, with psychedelic synthesiser sound-scapes in the background: “I love her even though she’s a nutter”.
Award-winning beatboxer Lady Belatrix steps out from behind her double-bass and treats the audience to some truly awesome beatboxing, creating drum and bass and hip hop beats, with actual melodies on top, using nothing but one set of vocal chords. It’s a skill I’ve always marvelled at. The beatboxing is followed by a beautiful acapella song. The audience listen in spell-bound silence.
Dizraeli and the Small Gods are a band who can turn on a sixpence, changing seamlessly from hip hop to intricate folk and back again several times within a song. The changes seem natural and exhilarating. Lee Westwood’s acoustic guitar playing is the solid bedrock of the band, drawing everything together consistently.
One song gives the audience the chance to release “our inner dickhead”, according to Dizraeli, clad in an Oscar the Grouch t-shirt. It’s all about paranoia: “Who’s that moving in the dark? It’s me, man – it’s only me!” There’s also an anthemic song, described as a “political polemic” by Dizraeli, with a very catchy chorus about enjoying yourself as it’s a very very short life.
The gig ends with mesmerising vocals from Cate Ferris and a crescendo of drums. It was a pleasure and a privilege to see Dizraeli and the Small Gods in action. They are truly unique and are gathering a large and dedicated following. They have a busy summer of gigs lined up. The next time they’re playing near Sheffield is at the Y-Not festival in Derbyshire on the 2nd August.
K.O.G. and the Allstar Revolution: http://www.kogmusic.co.uk/
Le Juki: http://lejuki.com/
Dizraeli and the Small Gods: http://www.dizraeli.com/