Thursday, 21 March 2013

Candy Says: Live review, The Wilmington Arms, London, March 2013

Last night’s sold out show at the Wilmington Arms, located just off trendy Exmouth Market in central London, was a first for Candy Says. Having formed out of the ashes of the recently disbanded Little Fish, Candy Says emerged on stage at the intimate venue with an air of meek apprehension, before lead singer Juju addressed the crowd, and jumped straight into Dead On Arrival.

A mixture of Little Fish fans and inquisitive hipsters keen for a good night out, the crowd soon embraced the confident sound of a band on the cusp of making bigger waves outside the fish bowl.

Teaming up with former Fish bandmate Ben Walker, Eliza Zoot and Mike Monaghan join Juju to bring their self-confessed Velvet Underground sound (their name is taken from the opening track of the Underground’s third album) to light.

Unlike many emerging bands that sandwich material around a debut single while playing live, Melt Into The Sun sat comfortably among the strong catalogue, with Juju’s voice finding its place, both lyrically and sonically. It seems a break really is as good as rest.

Heartfelt and genuine, Candy Says are anything but bittersweet, and offer honest, lo-fi pop arrangements without pretension or expectation. The adage of Eliza Zoot on vocals brought depth and warmth to an intense set, where standout tracks include the sublime Hummingbird, and the light-hearted Favourite Flavour.

Closing on the unexpectedly sombre Hollywood, the band left the stage with the crowd eager for more. Greeting friends old and new with stories and genuine content, Candy Says aren’t looking to make a quick buck out of a niche market. They’re passionate, and simply create music that makes them happy. A strange concept these days, they’re one to definitely watch.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Alabama Shakes Live Review

The last time Alabama Shakes were in town, they blew the roof off The Boston Arms in London and hit their stride on the summer festival circuit, leaving revellers eager for more. So, having returned to Europe for a string of headlining dates, did they quench the thirst of their steadily increasing fan base?

Playing to a sold out crowd of hipsters, boys and girls, and those looking for some southern soul at The Forum in Kentish Town, the Shakes definitely upped the ante. Opening with The Squidbillies Theme and Hang Loose, throughout the course of the night they predominantly stuck to the track list off their debut record, but turned down the pace to give a fresh take on a now well received and loved album.

Stand out tracks of the night included the effortlessly beautiful Rise To The Sun, and the impenetrable build of Be Mine Рwhich gave way to a sweaty swathe of joy from the crowd. At one point lead singer Brittany Howard threw her guitar across the stage Рwhich with any other band would be construed as a rock and roll clich̩, but here it was completely endearing. Drummer Steve Johnson literally turned up the heat by setting his cymbals on fire, and from this moment it was clear they had cut loose.

More confident yet not arrogant, self aware yet not ironic, the honest and heartfelt vibes that came from the Shakes were over far too quickly, and as the night drew to a close it’s clear the band were ending months of touring on a well earned high.

There are so many bands today that come and go, where their style easily changes with the weather. Gutless and afraid to take risks. Alabama Shakes have unapologetically struck a nerve with those ready for bullshit free tunes. And you know what? Like everyone at the Forum, I can’t wait to hear more.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Skills, Smells and Spells: Photography Exhibition by Toby Deveson

Negrabox, Brighton Festival May 1995

Toby Deveson is knackered. He’s also a gatecrasher. The latter possibly accounting for the former. But when we meet at London’s Southbank Centre one blustery May morning, the only signs that this Italian born, London residing photographer is slightly worse for wear are the shades of grey circulating below his eyes, and his choice of drink (green tea) as we hanker down to talk amidst the formation of what appears to be a two piece concerto.

There’s a good reason he’s knackered though. The photographer has been preparing for his upcoming exhibition, Skills, Smells and Spells which will reside at The Strand Gallery from the 28th May through 3rd June, and as he compares this to the preparation for his previous exhibition back in 1994, he certainly doesn’t remember there being so much to do. But what becomes apparent during our conversation is that this man is anything but a quitter, or resentful for the work he’s taken on. “Once you start you can’t stop really, as soon as you’ve committed yourself that’s it.” Self funded and almost entirely self promoted (Deveson’s application to The Arts Council was rejected, so he has been funding the event himself and through donations via the Indiegogo site), this exhibition really is a labour of love. So why now?

“I’m old enough now to think fuck it, if you want me, to see what my work is like, this is how I’m going to do it. This is my voice.” His voice is something he’s been developing over the past 20 years, documenting landscapes since he picked up his weapon of choice – the Nikkormat (his first, and only 35mm camera), given to him by his father. Simple and without pretension, Deveson shoots only in black and white, coupled with a solid and wide 24mm lens. Keeping his eyes firmly open, so we don’t miss a beat.

How did this exhibition at The Strand, which showcases the analogue photographer’s vast back catalogue, get off the ground then? “I was walking past and saw somebody else’s private view and gate crashed that with a friend. And it’s just a really nice space, so I contacted them.” Seems simple enough then, right?

You could say this exhibition, which fully captures the sensory nature of Deveson’s photography, has been a work in progress since he first pressed the shutter to that old Nikkormat and started his journey as an artist. But don’t let the idea of landscapes fool you. “A lot of these pictures aren’t those big, clichéd landscapes, some are from the side of a road in Norway or outside London. They’re little microcosms that could be anywhere, and I love that.”

Skills, Smells and Spells reflects his personality, and during our time together it becomes clear his landscapes aren’t your average click by numbers. “I’m not hanging around for the sun to come up. If I’m passing through somewhere and it’s foggy, rainy or sunny, I will try and document the landscape. So to me it doesn’t make any difference if I’m interacting with people or with nature, but over the years you have images that become personal favourites.”

Holi Festival, India, March 2011

His exhibition isn’t just the pick of his best work, but rather the careful selection of 40 shots, which determine Deveson’s style, voice and character. He’s driven by sensory, rather then purely visual experiences. With a style that ranges from the Holi festival in India to an orphanage in Romania, what’s captured is not contrived emotion, but an innocent charm, which has made his photography all the more compelling. Describing his work at Holi to look more like “a war zone rather than a celebration – you wouldn’t have seen the proximity or terror and joy in colour”, by shooting in black and white he’s able to document rather than make his subjects subjective, all without losing his own voice in a given shot. That’s no easy task. Sure he’s learnt a lot from his mistakes along the way – and admits developing his prints in Romania was “an absolute nightmare”, paying the price for every time he makes a reprint. But Deveson wouldn’t have it any other way – each reprint takes him back to the moment he pressed the shutter, and no two prints are ever the same. His art is constantly evolving.

The influx of social networking has made everyone with a smart phone an amateur photographer. Anyone can post a million snaps of the same subject, adjust with a number of filters here, a different lens there, to individualise a picture of quite literally anything. From your shoes to whatever you ate that day. We can now all socially comment on how awesome we are at pointing and pressing. Does Deveson ever wish for an easier life then, and go digital?

“No! It’s quite frustrating because people will look at a photograph of a celebrity or a famous situation and go ‘wow, that’s an amazing photograph!’ and you want to scream and say ‘no it’s not, it’s the subject.’ It’s actually a mediocre photograph of an amazing sunset or an amazing person, and the actual photograph itself isn’t very good and that’s the challenges of photography – to incorporate yourself in the picture.”

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to step into a dark room (and if you haven’t, it’s worth a visit) you will know the distinctive sensory experience that comes from developing your own prints. The chemicals, the darkness, the paper (Deveson works with matt paper, a sign of a classic photographer) and how all three come together, magically, to make for not your average 9-5. No print is the same, just as no eye, smell, sound or taste. Although we can never really be sure anyone interprets art the same way, what’s important is that we’re still interpreting, still learning and still exploring. For that, Deveson celebrates the intrepid innocence in us all, eager to keep the magic of photography exciting.
Romania, September 1992

For more information on Toby Deveson’s exhibition – Skills, Smells and Spells, visit Toby's website here and The Strand Gallery from 28th May to 3rd June 2012. You can also tweet Toby here

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Dark Shadows (2012) Movie Review

Tim Burton does isolation well. Look at most of his flics and nearly all the leads are lost, confused and set apart from the rest of town/village/hollow in which they reside. So it seems fitting then, that Burton continues his trend of misplaced belonging in his re-imagined world of Dark Shadows-loosely based on the late 1960s TV show of the same name.

Role call is in full swing for Burton regulars Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Danny Elfman who all come together in this tale of Barnabas Collins (Depp), a wealthy port owner during the 1700s cursed into a vampire and buried alive by ex girlfriend and witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green, channelling Death Becomes Her). Angelique sends his true love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) off a cliff when she realises he’s just not into her-possessive is an understatement. Two centuries pass and Barnabas is back, this time it’s the 1970s and he’s determined to restore his family’s name and good fortune.

What sets Dark Shadows apart from the rest of Burton’s catalogue of misfits is Depp’s Barnabas-he’s no meek and innocent hard done by lead. Sure his ex girlfriend has taken over the town in which he and his family built from the ground up-but he’s no pushover. Barnabas is strong, charming and a bit of a player. Trapped for two hundred years under the ground has done nothing to dampen his ego, or libido. That aside Shadows is a strange mix of classic Burton unease, edged so delightfully along by Elfman’s score. It’s almost surprising then when a Barry White track pops up during a sex scene, or Alice Cooper cameos for slightly too long during a town party.

Michelle Pfeiffer, reunited with her Batman director after 20 years is on fire as Elizabeth Collins, the head of the current Collins household and vamps up her role easily as she comes to terms with Barnabas’ situation. Helena Bonham Carter could play Dr Julia Hoffman with her eyes closed- a cooky psychiatrist who’s problem with the bottle is the least of her worries. The trouble is there’s too much plot going on that we never really get to sink our teeth fully into each character, who are with credit, a little off the mark. But that’s the joy of most soap operas, you want to tune into the next episode as the hooks are always there. The downside to Burton’s Dark Shadows is the soap is all there, but the opera is a little half baked.

An enjoyable romp through Burton at his most relaxed and fun, whether you’re into the original TV show or not, it’s worth a watch even if this Dark Shadows is too cinematic to be washed out.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey (2012) Review

This light hearted documentary recounts the career of Kevin Clash, the man behind the iconic puppet Elmo, taking a look at his rise to fame from small time puppet maker in Baltimore to a highly paid and respected member of the Sesame Street gang.

Underneath all the felt faces and goggly eyes of the brightly coloured puppets, there’s a darkness that could have turned this doc into a much more compelling story. The isolation, abandonment and disappointment between Clash and his family as a man who never seems to be available for them is missed by director Constance Marks, who fails to delve deeper into levels of emotion other than the joy Elmo brings to kids. What really shines here is the commitment Clash has for his lifelong passion as a puppeteer, the determination (and success) he had to work with his idol Jim Henson, and the opportunities he took and missed along the way. In hindsight, the crumbling relationships around him would have made for a more intriguing subject matter: a man in such high demand he missed out on most of the important moments in his child’s early life, and the deterioration of his marriage.

One for puppet fans out there with an interest in how the creatures are made, developed and performed. It’s all very nice and respectful, much like the brilliant TV shows by Jim Henson. Just don’t expect any hard hitting dirt.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Cabin In The Woods Review (2012)

Jock? Check. Slut/geek/virgin/intellectual? Total check. Yep, it looks like the directorial debut for Drew Goddard (Lost, Cloverfield) and co-writer Joss Whedon (Avengers Assemble, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) have nailed the classic teen horror franchise in their sleep – possibly between more time consuming projects. If you’ve seen the trailer however, you’ll have a hint that not all is what it seems. If you’ve actually seen the movie, then all bets are off. This is where if you haven’t seen the movie, step away from the review and come back when you have. Go on. Right, now we’re alone (wait, have you stopped reading?! You there, with the face! GO!) Let’s get to it. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, curious reader…

So The Cabin in the Woods – from the outset does exactly what it says in the title. There’s a group of attractive all American college kids ready to embark on a break from studying to drink, smoke and take part in illicit consensual acts in a remote cabin, in the woods. Of course the road to the cabin is dusty, and the further these horny teens get to their destination the further from civilization they part. There’s even a hostile hillbilly hick waiting for them at what appears to be an abandoned gas station, primed to warn them of possible terrors heading their way. So far, cut, copy and paste any number of teen slashers out there over the past 30 years.

What makes The Cabin in the Woods so darn entertaining though is not the horror, though the jumps are well marked and well received, or the fact that we think we know what to expect. The entertainment comes from a place where this flic is pure satirical entertainment, completely self-aware and tongue in cheek, but at no point does the tone become self-deprecating or farcical, like say, most horrors out there. It pays great homage to cult classics of yonder too - many over the top references to Evil Dead have no problem slapping you in the face with a cold, very much alive, dead severed hand.

The writing duo really aren’t trying to scare you, but rather employ tried and tested tactics to prove that as cinema goers, we buy into a certain hype, be it blockbusters (hello Whedon’s Avengers) comedies (American Pie: The Reunion) or rom-coms (The Five Year Engagement). We like to know what we’re getting ourselves into. We like to be proven right. But every once in a while, it’s beyond refreshing to be shown that there’s still fun, surprises and different ways to re-tell tried and tested stories that bring a smile and satisfaction to those happy to hang out with the sticky multiplex floor.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Never Let Me Go Review (2010)

Never Let Me Go, the bleak British drama stars Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield as three lost souls in search of who they are, and what they are, before their time is up.

Aesthetically mundane, American director Mark Romanek has nailed the drab English tone of this characteristically British story perfectly - the majority of the film set somewhere in the dank and miserably Midlands. Adapting Kazou Ishiguro’s novel for the screen is Alex Garland, who flits easily between teen angst and the sobering realisation that life, death, and everything in between happens very, very quickly. There's no rest bite when dealing with the heavily set themes, and by placing them directly in an all too familiar environment, it's an uncomfortable watch.

The love triangle between the three leads is played with such eloquence and tragedy, their existence is all the more heartbreaking. Carey Mulligan really excells in her role as Kathy, the slightest of looks defies a thousand emotions, and gives Knightley a run for her money, who does well as best friend Ruth. Garfield is perfectly cast as the meek Tommy, stuck between the two women and a destiny beyond any of their control.

What makes Never Let Me Go apt is it’s ability to thrust uncomfortable emotions into the forefront of conscious thought, rather than whisk them away into an unrealistic life affirming conclusion. Perhaps not one for the whole family, it's definitely worth a watch to remind us all how fleeting life really is.