We live in an age where music feels ever more disposable. Bands no longer have the luxury of multi-album contracts to hone their style and with streaming services all the rage, “the album as an art form” is dying. The very idea that Shonen Knife have endured for decades is fascinating. Since the release of their debut album back in the 80s, countless bands have formed, recorded, toured, disbanded…but the Japanese pop-punk/bubblegum power pop band have genuinely gone the distance. They’ve had line up changes – aside from ZZ Top, who hasn’t? – but they’re still with us and on the basis of tonight’s show in Ramsgate, they’re better than ever.
Perhaps part of the appeal of tonight’s show lies with the venue itself. With a capacity of under 150, the Ramsgate Music Hall is the very definition of intimate and it allows an opportunity to witness bands up close. Really, really up close. When Shonen Knife take the stage, there’s immediately a feeling that tonight will be special.
It’s the coldest February night on record. If it isn’t, then it certainly feels like it. On the outskirts of London, temperatures have dropped to -4° and even in the city, it’s reached an unwelcoming freezing point. Outside Student Central (formerly ULU), the gathering crowd appears fidgety, but not enough to dampen any sense of pending excitement. That said, a young man audibly claims there’s “about forty seconds until doors open”, so he’s obviously found himself on the wrong side of comfortable with the weather.
Luckily, once inside, things are much warmer. The gig area for Student Central is a no frills square room with a stage and tonight, a crowd for the Marmozets has packed it to the rafters. The band have previously played the main stage at the Reading and Leeds Festivals and are scheduled to appear at the 2018 Download Festival, so this opportunity to catch them in a somewhat intimate setting is very welcome…and something about the band’s upward trajectory in popularity recently suggests this might even be one of the last times we’re able to do so.
The Islington Assembly Hall always feels like a venue of two moods. The stage and balcony areas have a feeling of old theatre about them, much like the Empire at Shepherd’s Bush and fitting for a Grade II listed building. In other respects, visiting other parts the venue feels like stepping into a parochial town hall, albeit a rather large one. It’s easy to imagine a large table set up on a weekday afternoon with a man banging a little gavel, making announcements about Mrs. Jones’s award winning marmalade before alerting the neighbourhood watch team to a potential catastrophe regarding a missing moggie. On this evening, that feeling isn’t quite as strong as when Snakecharmer took the Assembly Hall’s stage in 2013, and even less so as the house lights dim.
The Royal Festival Hall in London is one of those buildings that splits opinion. For some, it’s an amazing piece of 70s architecture, a lasting snapshot from a time when things looked yellow and brown…and different; for others, its mess of passageways and stairs around every corner gives the feeling of being stuck in an Escher painting. The performance area is great for the “serious” music event, the classical performance or world music extravaganza; for the rock or pop audience, it’s a space that never quite reaches its full potential, with people dancing in a restrained way in front of their fold up seats. Nevertheless, it’s here that Deacon Blue have returned after selling out the venue two years previously.
For those who grew up in Kent, Maidstone’s Mote Park is likely to hold childhood memories of family picnics and feeding ducks. It seems almost inconceivable that very same park in the middle of an incredibly residential area, albeit many years later, would play host to a variety of superb rock bands. On the evening of Saturday 25th July, classic rock legends Scorpions are the headliners at the very first Ramblin’ Man Fair, but they’ve also got sterling support from NWOBHM legends Saxon, among others.